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  • Strikes and Protests 2007- Save Zimbabwe Campaign

  • Rising frustration brings hardening attitudes
    IRIN News
    March 16, 2007

    View Save Zimbabwe Campaign index of images and articles

    HARARE - As Zimbabwe's opposition groups vowed on Friday to keep up the pressure on the government for "democratic change", a defiant President Robert Mugabe lashed out at Western governments for supporting political violence.

    Opposition leaders and pro-democracy groups at a meeting issued a declaration committing themselves to a "heightened momentum" of protest action, Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), told IRIN.

    The gathering, under the auspices of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign (SZC), a pro-democracy drive launched by several NGOs, labour unions, students and opposition parties in February, was attended by both factions of the MDC.

    Zimbabwe has been in the spotlight since Sunday, when the police violently broke up a prayer meeting they had declared illegal, beating protestors including the opposition leadership. There was international condemnation of the crackdown.

    But the official newspaper, The Herald, on Friday quoted Mugabe accusing western governments of ignoring what he had said was MDC instigation of the violence. "When they criticise government when it tries to prevent violence, and punish perpetrators of that violence, we take the position that they can go hang."

    The government has vowed to use force to confront political "revolt", while the MDC has tried to reach out to the security forces after the petrol-bombing of a police camp on Tuesday in the capital, Harare, in which three policewomen were injured.

    "We are not fighting the security forces, they are our brothers and sisters, who are in the same predicament; we are fighting a dictatorial system," said Chamisa. "When you are bitten by a dog, you have to deal with the master."

    The MDC has denied any involvement in the bomb and teargas attack on the Marimba police camp.

    A policeman's story

    A policeman, who spoke to IRIN under condition of anonymity, described the "unbearable conditions" the police now faced as a result of the political tension.

    "When violence breaks out due to political disturbances, work becomes unbearable for us as police officers. Since February we have not been allowed to go off duty or on leave," he said.

    "Our bosses say the police force is understaffed and no-one should even think of taking a rest. That means we are on duty 24 hours a day. The pressure is even greater for us who are attached to PISI [the intelligence unit] because we have to be out, in plain clothes, gathering information on who is saying what and whether there are plans to carry out rallies or demonstrations, and where," he complained.

    "People are growing increasingly angry with the police and army, as they say we are being used by the government to beat them up, yet we will simply be carrying out orders. It is not that we like to beat up people, no. Remember, some of them are our relatives, friends and neighbours. But we have to safeguard our jobs: employment is difficult to find these days, and I have a family to look after."

    He added: "Yes, the people might hate us for simply being police officers, but they should remember that we are also unhappy with the kind of life we are living today: we buy from the same shops, board the same mode of transport with them, and get very paltry salaries."

    In a country with a prostrate economy and an inflation rate of over 1,700 percent, "I can't manage to send my child to a good school because my salary is small, and every month I am forced to borrow from moneylenders, who charge high interest," he said.

    "Most of the time, we go out to carry out our duties on empty stomachs and, because these tasks are given at short notice, we can even go for a whole day without food because the police force cannot manage to send provisions whenever there are special assignments to be carried out."

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