- A delegation from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which arrived yesterday in Zimbabwe, was immediately expelled by the country's immigration authorities. The planned 48-hour visit was intended to bring together COSATU representatives with their colleagues from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).
The official purpose of the visit, led by COSATU's Secretary-General Zwelinzima Vavi, was to discuss issues confronting workers in Zimbabwe and in the region in general. COSATU however also planned to map the situation in Zimbabwe before the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Three months ago, a similar COSATU "fact-finding mission" of 14 South African trade unionists was arrested expelled from Zimbabwe. The October COSATU mission was to meet ZCTU leaders and interview civil society organisations on the socio-political situation in Zimbabwe. The mission was however arrested and escorted to the South African border by heavily armed Zimbabwean riot police.
Yesterday, a new 15 member COSATU delegation was barred from entering Zimbabwe. COSATU leader Vavi again intended to conduct a fact-finding mission, but immigration officials met the delegation at Harare International Airport serving them with deportation orders. Zimbabwe's Labour Minister Paul Mangwana had already told the COSATU leadership that they would not be welcome in the country.
This new expulsion of South African trade unionists comes two months before elections for the Zimbabwean legislature, planned for 31 March. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which has its roots in the labour movement, has not yet decided whether it will participate in the elections due to a deteriorating democratic framework in the country.
Again, the South African trade union wanted to map the socio-political situation in Zimbabwe to determine if democratic elections can be held. COSATU spokesman Paul Notyawa recently said that "the aim of the visit is not to undermine the government of Zimbabwe, but to interact with the people of that country and listen to their concerns."
- We cannot announce the coming Zimbabwe national elections as being free and fair if we do not have a true reflection of the problems of the people of Zimbabwe, added Mr Notyawa. "The aim of the trip is to experience these problems ourselves."
The expulsion of COSATU leader Vavi is bound to create political complications in South Africa as COSATU is among the ground pillars of the ruling ANC party. ANC leader and South African President Thabo Mbeki is harshly criticised at home for being too soft on Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. COSATU has demonstrated a much tougher line against President Mugabe and is increasingly impatient with the ANC over its handling of the Zimbabwean crisis.
The incident has already caused protest from a wide spectre of sources. The deportation of the COSATU team was today strongly condemned by ZCTU. Also the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), which represents 148 million workers throughout the world, today sent a strong-worded letter of protest to President Mugabe.
- these new facts add up to your government's already sad record regarding the repression and harassment of trade unions, ICFTU General Secretary Guy Ryder wrote in the letter to President Mugabe. "Unfortunately, ZCTU members and affiliates are often intimidated, beaten, arrested and/or ill-treated by the police," he added.
The last expulsion of a COSATU mission to Zimbabwe prompted the ICFTU to bring the issue before the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO), as part of an ongoing case. "The latest expulsion will also be added to this case," the trade unionists said in a statement yesterday.
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