The South African Federation of Trade Unions condemns the brutal attacks by the Zimbabwe regime on thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets in opposition to the economic catastrophe which has engulfed the country.
At least 12 people have been killed by security forces; the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights says it has treated 68 cases of gunshot wounds and 100-plus other cases of “assaults with sharp objects, booted feet, baton sticks”.
Other protesters have fled Into hiding, including the President of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). Peter Mutasa. ZCTU’s information officer confirmed that “the home of our president, Peter Mutasa was attacked on Tuesday night by suspected Central Intelligence Organisation officials and property worth thousands of dollars was destroyed in the process.
“His [Matusa’s] brother, who was the only person at home, was seriously beaten and sustained deep injuries which have made it impossible for him sit properly” he said.
Mutasa’s alleged ‘crime’ is doing exactly what a union leader must do – “recording and circulating a video calling on Zimbabweans to stay away from work starting in protest over a government decision to hike fuel prices by more than double, coupled with worsening poverty levels among locals.
Mutasa rightly argued in an earlier interview that the country’s main labour group had a right to urge locals to express their displeasure through peaceful means. “This is a constitutional right that anyone should be allowed to exercise and the police must just play their role by maintaining law and order”.
Pastor Evan Mawarire, a staunch opponent of former President Mugabe, has been arrested and taken to court charged with treason.
But not only leaders are involved in the protests and the suffering from the attacks. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change says that many ordinary people were swept up in the biggest security operation seen in Zimbabwe for years.
Soldiers and unidentified armed men are reported to have conducted door-to-door searches in poor areas of cities, dragging residents out of homes to be beaten and often detained, many of them being held without charge in overcrowded prisons and police cells.
Some may face new fast-track trials, ordered earlier this week, on charges that could bring long prison sentences. 400 detainees, most charged with public order offences, have already appeared in batches of 50 before Harare magistrates in on Friday afternoon and were denied bail.
A partial internet blackout was still in force on Sunday, two days after mobile networks sent messages to customers saying they had been ordered to keep social media sites shut until further notice.
SAFTU is particularly concerned at a statement by the president’s spokesman that the crackdown on protests is a foretaste of how the government will respond to future unrest This is a dire warning that much worse oppression is to be expected and that Zimbabwe is heading back to the darkest days the former Mugabe regime.
Meanwhile SAFTU continues to support the workers’ strikes in support demands for increases in pay to offset the drop in the value of salaries.
305 000 public workers are striking for an increase in their salaries and a demand to be paid in dollars. The government has offered to pay $300 million for the period between April and December, a monthly average rise of $109 each.
But workers have rejected this latest offer, the second in two weeks. Thomas Muzondo, deputy chairman of the Apex Council, a group of all civil service unions, says that a third round of talks was scheduled for next week.
“We insisted on U.S. dollar salaries but the government totally rejected this,” he said, “We are now consulting our membership but we told the government that their offer is nowhere near our expectations”.
SAFTU warns the workers of South Africa that unless our economic crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality is resolved, workers and poor communities could face similar devlopments as we see to the north of the Limpopo.
In Zimbabwe the protests exploded from below, said political analyst Derek Matyszak, “people came on to the streets spontaneously, and in anger, which is rare for Zimbabwe. What then appears to have happened was that activists got together to try to challenge that anger”.
There is a similar undercurrent of anger and frustration growing in South Africa. Municipal IQ‚ a local government data and intelligence organisation‚ has confirmed that there were more protests in 2018 than any other year since 2005. They recorded 237 protests against municipalities across the country in 2018, the highest since the record of 191 in 2014.
That is why the SAFTU-led campaign of mass action, including the total shutdown on 26-27 March is so crucial.
When the poor majority of South are forced to follow the example of their Zimbabwe comrades and surge on to the streets, it is essential to have already built the maximum unity between workers, employed and unemployed, community activists, civil society and informal-sector small businesses, and not just to respond after the explosion occurs.
We shall require a strong, united front, led by the organized working class but rallying behind it all the oppressed masses. This will be the only defence against the inevitable counter-attack by the ruling capitalist class and their agents in the security forces. That is the lesson of the events taking place in Zimbabwe.
Workers of the world unite!
An injury to one is an injury to all!