Unions vow to defy repression in Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions has declared it will go ahead with an April 3-4 "stay away" by workers despite the wave of repression suffered by opponents of President Robert Mugabe's regime and authorities' threats to crush the ZCTU strike. Already ZCTU members have been arrested, their offices raided and material relating to the stay away confiscated.

The ZCTU, which issued the call for the protest in late January, is demanding a minimum wage linked to the country's poverty datum line, ZimOnline reported on March 23. ZCTU secretary general Wellington Chibebe told the news service that hunger was a bigger threat for workers than the inevitable government repression they will face. Didymus Mutasa, Mugabe's state security minister, has said the government would crush the strike. ZimOnline reported on February 26 that Mutasa said the ZCTU wants "to start a war and we are more than prepared to deal with them".

The ZCTU has revealed that its April protest will be supported by the Congress of South African Trade Unions. However, the African National Congress-led government in South Africa continues to back Mugabe (COSATU and the ANC, along with the South African Communist Party, make up the Tripartite Alliance). A March 18 COSATU statement declared the organisation "is mobilising its members for a demonstration in Johannesburg on 3 April, in a massive show of solidarity with the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe".

In September, ZCTU members and officials were arrested and beaten after staging peaceful protests over the hardship faced by the majority of Zimbabweans due to the dire economic situation.

On March 2, the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe revealed that the monthly budget for low-income urban families of six rose by 49.95% to Z$686,115.78 (A$3400) between January and February. Inflation is currently running at around 1600%; the International Monetary Fund predicts it will reach 4000% by the end of the year.

Mugabe's regime is reportedly considering imposing a state of emergency to deal with heightened opposition to his regime after the March 11 arrest and torture of Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai and MDC supporters at a prayer rally. ZimOnline reported on March 18 that at a meeting three days earlier the president had pushed for the immediate declaration of a state of emergency, allowing the mass jailing of the government's opponents. However, Mugabe was "dissuaded from taking that route by his security chiefs who felt the action would be too drastic and would send the wrong signals to the international community".

Mugabe's security ministers "are said to have told Mugabe to use 'maximum force without officially declaring a state of emergency'". The article noted that the government fears "current opposition protests could easily turn into full-fledged rebellion".

As of the afternoon of March 15, there were still more than 120 opposition activists detained after the March 11 protest, with fears they were being tortured, according to the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CIZC). On the morning of March 18, six men attacked Nelson Chamisa with iron bars at the Harare International Airport. Chamisa, an MDC spokesperson and MP, is feared to have suffered serious skull fractures. He was still recovering from being tortured while in police custody.

On March 22, MDC members Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh were able to leave Zimbabwe to receive medical attention in South Africa. Zimbabwe security forces had stopped a March 17 attempt to evacuate the two, who had also been arrested and tortured after the prayer meeting.

A March 20 Kooriweb.org press release reported that Australian Aboriginal activists had condemned the Mugabe regime's assault on Holland and other opposition activists. The statement noted that "Many Aboriginal Australians who were involved in the anti-apartheid movement in the early 1970s have strong and fond memories of Sekai Holland. She was a staunch supporter of the Aboriginal Land Rights movement and the 1972 Aboriginal Embassy."

The release listed a number of Indigenous Australians who opposed the Zimbabwean regime's crackdown, including Naomi Mayer's of the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service, Jenny Munro, Lyall Munro, Gary Foley, Sol Bellear, Gary Williams, NSW MP Linda Burney, novelist and historian Tony Birch, Kaye Bellear (widow of Aboriginal District Court Judge Bob Bellear), Alexis Wright (novelist and Miles Franklin Award nominee), artists Richard Bell and Sam Wickman, Dulcie Flower, Lloyd McDermott, Lowitja O'Donohue, Evelyn Scott, Faith Bandler, Hans Bandler, Lester Bostock, Euphemia Bostock, Joyce Clague and Colin Clague.

There are rumours of disquiet, and possible coup plots, within Mugabe's ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union — Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), fuelled by the dire economic situation, the ongoing international financial sanctions and Mugabe's desire to extend his reign as president. Imperialist governments have made clear they would be happy to deal with a post-Mugabe ZANU-PF regime as long as it pursues policies acceptable to Western capital.

Within ZANU-PF, at least two factions eager to lead a post-Mugabe government have developed — one around former parliamentary speaker Emmerson Mnangagwa and another around former armed forces head General Solomon Mujuru and his wife, Vice-President Joyce Mujuru.

Britain's Guardian reported on March 23 that a "senior Foreign Office official" had said that "The economy and party [ZANU-PF] will be the two main drivers of change" and that "If one faction [in ZANU-PF] succeeded in easing [Mugabe] out and wished to re-engage with the international community, we would look closely at what that faction stood for".

The paper reported that even if Mugabe was ousted by a "palace coup" and replaced by someone from ZANU-PF "tainted by its corrupt and brutal track record, Britain would be prepared to lift Zimbabwe's isolation on condition that the new government showed a commitment to reform, the official said".

A March 23 article by Martin Fletcher in the London Times reported on a meeting the journalist had with a "senior officer" in the Zimbabwean police force. The officer claimed there was "growing disenchantment within the ranks of Zimbabwe's police and suggested that many of its members might stand aside if the people rose up against their 83-year-old President".

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