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Zimbabwe General Strike Has Muted Impact - Job Loss Fears Cited

  • Jonga Kandemiiri

A call by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions for a two-day stayaway or general strike starting Tuesday produced mixed results with most business districts operating as usual, but with some impact reported in industrial zones and enterprises.

Many workers said they were not prepared to risk losing their jobs in the depths of an economic crisis that has impoverished much if not most of the population.

ZCTU headquarters officials, meanwhile, declared the first day of the strike a success despite reports of downtown business as usual and mixed industrial participation.

Union Secretary General Wellington Chibebe told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he estimated 80% participation in Harare and expressed the hope that even more workers would stay home tomorrow.

In Harare, the capital, banks, supermarkets and most shops opened. Some industrial firms remained shuttered, but many others were operating on normal schedules.

Correspondent Irwin Chifera of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported that in Harare the police mounted roadblocks early Tuesday morning and helicopters flew over the capital and various high-density suburbs throughout the day.

Bulawayo correspondent Netsai Mlilo saw little evidence of the stayaway in the central business district, but found a significant number of factory hands heeded the call. Police in Bulawayo arrested a top local ZCTU official on the even of the strike.

In Mutare, a city in the east on Zimbabwe's border with Mozambique, most businesses in the city center were open. But sources told VOA that police forced workers at the Border Timbers wood processing plant, on a main highway, to report for work.

In Gweru, an industrial center in Midlands Province, only scattered shops and firms closed, a local correspondent reported. Chinhoyi sources reported much the same.

The ZCTU, a labor confederation, called the two-day strike Tuesday to protest harsh economic conditions and demand a minimum Z$1 million (US$40) wage for workers to cushion the impact of inflation which ran at a cumulative annual 1,730% in February. The International Monetary Fund has warned inflation could reach 5,000%.

In an apparent effort to block union mobilization efforts, authorities deployed security forces as early as Monday night in areas considered to be likely trouble spots - in particular Harare's so-called high-density suburbs or townships.

Residents Epworth, Mabvuku and Dzivarasekwa - all opposition strongholds - said the police forced beer halls to close early and beat those still on the streets late at night.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena, an assistant commissioner, said Harare has activated its National Reaction Force, which includes military troops.

Human rights lawyer and political analyst Dewa Mavhinga told reporter Blessing Zulu that the heavy deployment of security forces reflected government uneasiness.

Employers said the stayaway had little effect on their operations, though reports were circulating of employees being threatened with dismissal if they stayed away. But the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce said it had no reports on such threats.

Former Chamber of Commerce president Luxon Zembe, an economist and manager, told reporter Patience Rusere that dialogue was the only solution to the plight of workers and that stayaways were a counterproductive tactic.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...

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