ZIMBABWE: Abducted trade union leader still missing

Issue 

BY NORM DIXON

Zimbabwe Civil Service Employees Association president Ephraim Tapa and Faith Mukwakwa, his wife, have been missing since February 16. Their vehicle was intercepted by supporters of President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African Nation Union-Patriotic Front.

The car in which Tapa and Mukwakwa was travelling was surrounded by more than 30 ZANU-PF militia in Hoyuyu resettlement area in Mutoko, a north-eastern rural region. The militia members demanded that the car's occupants produce ZANU-PF party cards. When they failed to do so, they were taken to the school where Mukwakwa teaches. It has been taken over by ZANU-PF militia for use as a "base".

Tapa's two brothers, who were also travelling in the car, managed to escape, although one was shot in the arm. Tapa was returning from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) stakeholders' meeting which had been held in Harare earlier in the day. Tapa is a member of the ZCTU general council.

The abduction was reported to the police but no serious investigation has been carried out. The ZCTU has written a letter to July Moyo, minister for labour and social welfare, requesting that he pressure the home affairs minister to find the couple. Both suffer from health problems and need medication.

Trade unionists have been targeted by the Mugabe regime because they are the base of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Mugabe's government failed to win a single urban or working-class electorate in the June 2000 parliamentary election.

Teachers, nurses, civil servants and farm workers have been singled out for intimidation by the ZANU-PF, largely due to their strong trade union affiliations. During a campaign speech on February 20, Mugabe threatened to deregister the ZCTU.

The ZCTU has repeatedly called for the disbanding of ZANU-PF militias — responsible for the campaign of terror and brutality which has intensified as the March 9-10 presidential election has approached.

The ZCTU has also demanded that the police carry out their duty to protect citizens from harassment. The locations of the militia camps are known to the police, but no attempt has been made to close them.

The area where Tapa and Mukwakwa were abducted is known to be one of the "hot spots" where incidents of human rights violations by ZANU-PF thugs have been particularly pronounced.

On March 1 ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo said, "Under the circumstances, it would be very difficult in this country to have what could generally be considered free and fair elections".

He angrily dismissed a statement by Namibia's chief election observer, Kaire Mbuende, that reports of violence were "exaggerated". "It's us who know there is violence, who are being beaten, who are being tortured, who are being raped", Matombo said.

Matombo was quoted in the March 1 edition of the ZCTU's newspaper, the Worker, as saying that if Mugabe won the election the situation for workers would worsen. A new industrial relations law was put on hold prior to the presidential election. A Mugabe victory would result in an even harsher version being reintroduced into Zimbabwe's ZANU-PF controlled parliament.

"The Labour Relations Amendment Bill is closer to the Masters and Servants Act of the 1930s ... If it is passed, we will be back in Rhodesia", said Matombo.

The idea of a new labour law was first proposed by the labour movement in a bid to unite workers in the private sector and those in the public sector, as they were covered by separate laws. However, after accepting the proposal for a new law, the government went on to draft a law which includes a number of clauses that ban demonstrations by workers.

Matombo said the labour bill will ban stayaways and strikes. Trade union leaders could go to jail for 20 years without the option of a fine if they breach the law.

"[ZANU-PF's laws] will disenfranchise workers. If they want to hold a meeting, they are required to apply to the police and knowing the police as we do nowadays, they will turn down the request", he said.

In the March 1 Worker, it was reported that ZCTU's second vice president, Elias Mlotshwa, had denounced laws passed by ZANU-PF that deprive Zimbabweans with one or more parents born overseas, and who have not formally renounced their right to citizenship in their parent/s' native country, of the right to vote. He said it was surprising that the government had passed laws to bar a lot of people from voting, yet in 1980 it campaigned for a one-person, one-vote policy.

"A lot of 'foreigners' who have lived and worked in the country's mines and farms will not be given a chance to exercise their vote. These same people have been voting in the past elections before the emergence of the MDC. Why is this happening?", asked an angry Mlotshwa.

The March 7 Worker reported that union leaders based in remote areas had said that it has become difficult to carry on their trade union duties as they have become targets of harassment, beatings and, in some cases, victims of arson at the hands of ZANU-PF militia.

Isaac Mzimba, the ZCTU district chairperson for Kwekwe, said his house was burned down and is now living in hiding. On January 11, 400 government supporters attacked his house. The thugs were escorted by senior local police officers.

Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions on March 4 demanded that Tapa and Mukwakwa be found and released. COSATU called on the South African government and the Southern African Development Community's trade council to apply pressure to the Zimbabwe government to force its police to find the abducted labour movement activists. COSATU also demanded that the Mugabe regime disband ZANU-PF militia and protect Zimbabwe citizens from harassment.

On March 4, Zimbabwe immigration officials refused to allow the coordinator of the Southern African Journalists Association, Tuwani Gumani, entry into the country. Immigration officials declared him a prohibited person, although they did not indicate why. Gumani's organisation wants to institute a legal challenge to the new law that restricts Zimbabwe's non-government press.

[Please send letters demanding the release of Tapa and Mukwakwa to <zanupf@africaonline.co.zw> and <clerk@parlzim.gov.zw>. Visit the ZCTU's Worker at <http://www.africaonline.co.zw/theworker/>. Zimbabwe Indymedia is at <http://zimbabwe.indymedia.org>.]

From Green Left Weekly, March 13, 2002.

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