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by magistrates enters second month
Lance Guma, SW Radio Africa
November 30, 2007
strike by magistrates and prosecutors, demanding better pay and
working conditions, has now entered a second month with no sign
of the dispute being resolved. Thousands of detainees in the country's
remand prisons have been left stranded as senior prosecutors and
regional magistrates battle to clear a massive backlog, worsened
by the juniors who went on strike at the end of October. Even before
the strike, the judicial system was sitting on a backlog of 350
earn Z$16 million a month whereas the poverty datum line for an
average family is over Z$23 million. This has forced them to demand
a 900 percent wage hike. Justice Ministry officials are arguing
the ministry has already exhausted it's budget for the year and
a review can only be made in the next budget allocation. This however
is in stark contrast to unplanned budget allocations, which have
been poured into defence and security departments in the past by
the same government.
In early November
the government threatened to sack all striking magistrates if they
ignored orders to go back to work. The Permanent Secretary in the
Justice Ministry, David Mangota, said the magistrates had to go
back to work before their grievances were addressed. Those on strike
ignored the threats. The failure by government to address the concerns
of the magistrates has seen many of them leaving the country for
greener pastures in neighbouring countries.
who, under the constitution, should only be held for 48 hours are
now spending much longer in detention. As the country teeters on
the edge of a complete economic meltdown, crime levels are rising
and this has meant an increase in the number of people locked up
in holding cells. Adding to an already complex scenario are political
detainees from the opposition, who are being assaulted, tortured
and then locked up. These activists are now spending even more time
in custody as the regime hides behind the strike.
Muchadehama says the Justice Ministry is to blame for the crisis.
They awarded regional magistrates salaries of Z$190-200 million
a month and promised them luxury Mazda Eagle vehicles after they
threatened to resign. This created a huge discrepancy with junior
magistrates, prosecutors and other court staff who are still earning
paltry salaries. Muchadehama says bridging the gap will prove impossible
given the fact that government is broke. He says as lawyers they
are spending the whole day milling around the courts with nothing
to do. Meanwhile those on strike say they will report for work in
January, the time frame government says it can review their salaries.
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