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Stay away receives support despite slow start
Henry Makiwa, SW Radio Africa
September 19, 2007

Zimbabwe's main labour union received a boost Wednesday as various pro-democracy movements affirmed their support towards the mass job boycott that continues through Thursday.

According to reports, response to the stayaway was slow in most cities across the country today. However civil society and the opposition have swiftly moved to the side of labour in support of the strike, called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). Labour is protesting the six-month blanket wage freeze decreed by Robert Mugabe a fortnight ago.

The National Constitution Assembly (NCA), the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the London-based Zimbabwe Vigil are some of the organisations that declared their support for the labour action.

NCA national co-ordinator Ernest Mudzengi, said despite most workers showing up for work on the first day of the stay away, most did not conduct their normal duties once at the workplace.

Mudzengi said: "Workers are simply 'staying away' at work and that's a very strong statement as well. Before anyone dismisses this strike as a failure, you should assess the conditions and circumstances facing workers and the labour leaders.

"Workers are threatened by employers with job losses while the ZCTU is being pursued by state security agents. The safe route for some therefore, is to report to work and not do anything at all," he said.

Lovemore Matombo and Wellington Chibhebhe, the ZCTU's president and secretary general respectively, are understood to be in hiding following an onslaught by police on the labour union, which saw at least ten being arrested across the country since Monday.

Sithokozile Siwela, the ZCTU secretary for the Women's Advisory Council, today confirmed that both Matombo and Chibhebhe were on the run.

Siwela said: "We have gathered that the police have actually been to Matombo's house and confiscated his mobile phones and detained his brother Ephraim and a domestic worker until they locate Matombo.

"We will however push forward with the stayaway despite the arrests and harassments. Already we have received support from organisations outside the country and we will be holding a demonstration in London on Thursday," she added.

Siwela also invited Zimbabweans in London to join the Zimbabwe Vigil, the Action for Southern Africa and the Trade Unions Congress, for a protest march outside the Zimbabwe embassy at noon on Thursday.

Meanwhile the PTUZ has called on teachers not to return to work, after the end of the ZCTU job boycott.

PTUZ general secretary Raymond Majongwe, urged teachers to shift from the go-slow mode and embark on a full strike after government refused to increase their wages this month.

Majongwe said: "We are in solidarity with the ZCTU in this strike. Most of our members discovered that the government had not increased our salaries when they checked their pay Wednesday morning.

"We are obviously very dejected and angry indeed because some of us have earned as little as Z$1 million. The government should realise that it is not our will to go to strike, but they are forcing us to do it if they can't recognise our worth and effort," he said.

Thousands of teachers have been skipping borders into neighbouring countries for menial jobs as the economic crisis continues to bite. According to sources, at least 21 teachers quit their posts at Kuwadzana high school alone last week.

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