HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s government deployed riot police with batons and dogs on Tuesday before a protest march called by Zimbabwe’s main labour union against rising poverty in the southern African country.
Witnesses said police, who have
used force to quash demonstrations in recent years, also mounted roadblocks on streets leading into the central business district of the capital Harare.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has urged workers to stage processions country-wide at midday (1000 GMT) “to remind government and employers that workers are hungry, angry and tired”.
The ZCTU is a key ally of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which has offered the stiffest challenge to Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF as the country grapples with an economic crisis widely blamed on government mismanagement.
Zimbabwe’s workers have borne the brunt of the economic meltdown, marked by chronic shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency. Prices of basic commodities are rising almost daily while wages remain stagnant.
“The ZCTU demands … a living wage for all workers … reduction of income tax … and free access to anti retrovirals,” a statement said, referring to drugs to combat HIV/AIDS, said to kill more than 2,500 Zimbabweans a week.
The government, which has used tough security laws to stamp down on protests in the last five years, slammed Tuesday’s marches as a political gimmick to further the agenda of the MDC, most of whose support comes from disenchanted city dwellers.
“The demonstration… is about political mileage on the part of the ZCTU leadership, which wants to join mainstream opposition politics,” Labour and Social Welfare Minister Nicholas Goche said in a statement to the official Herald daily.
Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, denies responsibility for the crisis in Zimbabwe’s economy, once the envy of the region.
Instead, he blames sabotage by foreign and domestic opponents of his land reforms, under which white-owned farms have been seized for reallocation to landless blacks. — Reuter