President Mugabe’s security forces swooped on Tuesday of last week after the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and its allies called a day of action against poverty.
The protesters called for food, water, jobs and the right to strike, for no more debt repayments to the International Monetary Fund, the right for informal traders to operate and other demands.
They were met by armed riot police and soldiers. The march was declared illegal. But the repression has not stopped the movement.
Conditions were tough in the cells where those arrested were taken. There were 30 people to a room and it was “standing room only”. But in those cells was forged the beginning of the united front that can overthrow president Robert Mugabe’s regime.
The police treated us very carefully and with respect. At one point we were singing revolutionary songs and were told this would mean we wouldn’t get food. Then the riot cops intervened to say we must be fed, that we should be treated decently. This should worry Mugabe. The police are not sure who will be in charge soon! The cells were alive with debate. We were united on the streets, and united in jail.
Among those seized were Wellington Chibele, secretary general of the ZCTU, and Lovemore Matombo, president of the ZCTU.
As well as ZCTU officials, leading figures in the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), were arrested. These include Munyaradzi Gwisai, John Bomba and Aaron Dhliwayo.
Lovemore Madhuku, a veteran civil rights leader was also arrested. Police carted six student leaders away from the University of Zimbabwe the next day.
Charges were laid under the infamous Public Order and Security Act. Fortunately, hundreds of people in Zimbabwe and from across the world phoned police stations and jails, protested to Zimbabwean offices abroad and passed messages through trade union organisations.
This helped step up the pressure on Mugabe and on Friday of last week all of those arrested were released—although they may be taken back to court soon.
Faced with a worsening economic and political environment the government is desperate to crush any resistance. Inflation is now 411 percent a year, and basic goods are in short supply.
The protest comes as the main opposition force, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), is split. One section believes that the present MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is too “rough” and unwilling to compromise.
This faction believes that a more sophisticated strategy could win over disaffected members of Mugabe’s party and achieve a change of government without disorder in the streets.
Tsvangirai, who has shown himself only too ready to make concessions to business and Western governments in the past, has tired of these false friends.
He has argued for a partial return to the tactics of militant organisation and reliance on working class organisation which marked the birth of the MDC.
The flashpoint between the two groups is the senate elections scheduled for 26 November.
Tsvangirai has called for a boycott, while his rival Welshman Ncube urged participation. The party’s executive split down the middle, with the petty bourgeois forces backing Ncube and the militant sections, the youth and the women behind Tsvangirai.
In this context, the ZCTU’s call for street protests won wide support in the capital, Harare. Thousands joined the march, even though it was illegal.
We are arguing for a return to the streets. One option being considered is 1 December, budget day. We hope that can be a day of international solidarity.
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