- South Africa's trade union federation COSATU is threatening with a blockade of the Zimbabwean border after the deportation of its "fact-finding mission" to the northern neighbour. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's government claims COSATU is a mere agent for British imperialist politics and that the "treacherous" mission only had wanted to prepare a "regime change."
The COSATU delegation of 14 South African trade unionists today was escorted by heavily armed Zimbabwean riot police from Harare to the Beitbridge border post. From here, the COSATU mission arranged its own transport to Johannesburg.
The mission had originally been denied entrance to Zimbabwe by the Harare Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, saying that COSATU's programme indicated it was "predicated in the 'political domain'." The mission nevertheless went to Harare to investigate the chances of holding free and fair parliamentary elections next year.
At arrival, Zimbabwean officials had urged the trade unionist to sign a document saying they would not meet with the civil society organisations that were on COSATU's programme. Rejecting the order, the mission's members were given a one day's visa. Meeting the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), however, police stormed the ZCTU headquarters and detained the COSATU mission.
The trade unionists were yesterday taken to Harare airport for deportation. After Zimbabwean officials failed to secure them return tickets, they were put on a bus, where they remained incommunicado during the night. There was no information about the whereabouts of the COSATU delegation until it reached the South African border this morning. This insecurity sparked threats of a blockade of the Zimbabwean border by the COSATU leadership.
Upon arriving South Africa, delegation leader and COSATU Deputy President Violet Shibone told the national press that no one had been hurt during the deportation. She said the delegation felt they had accomplished their mission: "We spoke to the ZCTU and their affiliates," said Ms Shibone. Further, the Zimbabwean government's reaction had also provided new facts.
For COSATU Secretary-General Zwelinzima Vavi, the affair has however not ended with this deportation. Mr Vavi said the trade union would now launch an international campaign of protest against the government of President Robert Mugabe. "We will do everything, including blocking that bridge where they dumped our delegates," he said. A similar COSATU blockade against the dictatorial regime in Swaziland forced the Swazi government to embark on reforms.
South Africa's ruling ANC party, which is politically affiliated with COSATU, however urged the union to calm down. While Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said the affair was "clearly a bit embarrassing" for the ANC, the Foreign Ministry remained inactive. "The South African government accepts that Zimbabwe is an independent, sovereign state that has an inalienable right to determine and to apply its immigration legislation as it may deem appropriate and in its own interest," a statement by the Ministry said today.
The government in Zimbabwe however opted for a more hostile tone. While praising South Africa's ANC government, Zimbabwe's infamous Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said the COSATU mission was representing "hostile neo-colonial interests." These so-called "false trade unionists" where in fact "an integral part of Britain's disguised manoeuvres to meddle in the politics and internal affairs of Zimbabwe," Minister Moyo said in a statement.
The COSATU delegation had been expulsed because it was on a "treacherous" mission, the Minister explained. Mr Moyo on several occasions indicates that COSATU's real interest was to topple the Zimbabwean regime "in order to install puppet governments who govern for the benefit of hostile Western interests."
The Zimbabwean government was, not surprisingly, supported by the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU), a "trade union" installed by the government to compete with ZCTU, which remains internationally isolated. In a statement issued by ZFTU, COSATU is again described as a group that does not represent South African workers but the British government.
- We do not recognise these individuals or unions who, because of their powerful Western sponsors, think themselves mightier than our elected national governments born out of the liberation struggle, and who seek to challenge and undermine their lawful authority, said the ZFTU statement, adding that COSATU's leadership had now become "aristocratic and pro-capital."
As the war of words is scaling up, the South African public is expecting harder reactions from its ANC government, which traditionally has supported President Mugabe. A possible COSATU blockade of the Zimbabwean border could provoke a split between the trade union and the ANC. COSATU in this case is nevertheless supported by the conservative Democratic Alliance opposition party, urging President Thabo Mbeki to react to this "insult" against South Africa.
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