afrol News, 20 November - About 100 leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) still remain imprisoned after their attempt to arrange a protest march on Tuesday. An announced general strike in protest against the arrest of the ZCTU leaders proved unsuccessful. People didn't dear to stay away from work.
Although acting ZCTU Secretary-General Collen Gwiyo yesterday was calling all its members "for a stayaway to be held" on Thursday and Friday to "demand the immediate release of ZCTU and other civic society leaders," few Zimbabweans had followed the call. Harare city today was working at normal speed; shops and offices remained open.
- I've been around the city, and there's not much response, ZCTU spokesperson Mlamleli Sibandawas quoted by the South African news agency SAPA as saying. "But we are back in our offices and trying to send out messages to our members. It may pick up in the afternoon or tomorrow."
Some 400 ZCTU leaders and members were arrested on Tuesday as they were trying to organise marches to protest Zimbabwean workers' heavy taxation ahead of the announcement of the national budget, and the rampant human rights abuses in the country. A communiqué was to be delivered Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa.
Parts of the ZCTU petition reads: "Almost every worker is taxed up to 45 percent of his or her wages and benefits, yet there is nothing to show for it. Our health delivery system, transport, educational system and all services have collapsed. In the context of the deepening crisis, workers and Zimbabweans in general can no longer enjoy basic economic rights."
The trade unionist however never got a chance to present the communiqué to Minister Murerwa. Much of the ZCTU leadership was arrested in their homes early in the morning on Tuesday, while the thousands of Zimbabwean workers that had responded to the ZCTU call were met by riot police as the march was to start.
Troop carriers holding groups of riot police were seen in pursuit of any action deemed to be anti-state. In two separate incidents trained dogs were set upon the potential protestors, leaving the victims savaged. Several areas in Harare city were blanketed by tear gas, with at least five separate explosions from canisters being heard. Pumas carrying AK-toting police dispersed the thousands of people converging.
At least 100 ZCTU and other civil society activists are still being held in custody, mostly at the Harare central police station. They are expected to appear in court tomorrow, on Friday. There are concerns the detained may suffer torture, as has been reported on earlier similar occasions.
As the ZCTU leadership has been largely imprisoned, opponents of the Mugabe regime were hoping this could spur further popular action for a change. Remaining ZCTU leaders called for a general strike and found support from the country's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
MDC representative Paul Themba Nyathi yesterday was confidential and said that "no amount of force or intimidation will stop a revolution whose time has come." With most of the free press gagged and few other communication outlets, it however seemed that Zimbabweans today were unsure of what action to take.
Support for the ZCTU leaders today came from abroad. After international trade unions had condemned the police actions against ZCTU already on Tuesday, the UN joined in today. In Washington, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, today voiced his concerns over the mass arrests.
Mr Ramcharan appealed to the Zimbabwean authorities "to take all necessary measures to guarantee the rights of the detained persons and to secure their right to freedom of opinion and expression in accordance with the fundamental principles as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reiterated in the international human rights norms and instruments."
Yesterday in London, Chris Mullin, the UK Minister for Africa, condemned the arrests of the ZCTU leaders, saying they were "further evidence of the Zimbabwean authorities' disregard for human rights, including the right to freedom of association."
In Berlin, the anti-corruption organisation Transparency International (TI) today joined the protests over the arrests and said it was especially concerned for its Zimbabwe representative, John Makumbe, who was among the detained. "The arrests represent a dangerous attack on civil freedoms, and an escalation of the hostile treatment of civil society representatives by the authorities in Zimbabwe," TI said.
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