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Mugabe's brutal repression will not break us
Lovemore Matombo
April 04, 2007

http://comment.independent.co.uk/commentators/article2418391.ece

Zimbabwean workers are staying away from work today, as they did yesterday, because our economy is in tatters, and our proposals for reform have been ignored.

I know that British people who care about the workers of Zimbabwe - and the many Zimbabweans who have fled to the UK - will be demonstrating outside the Embassy of Zimbabwe on the Strand this lunchtime, and I thank them for their commitment to our just cause.

Zimbabwe has an inflation rate of more than 1,700 per cent, four-fifths of the workforce are unemployed, and life expectancy has plummeted to just 37 years because of starvation and disease. Ordinary Zimbabweans can no longer afford to buy the basic necessities to feed ourselves and our families.

For those who can work, the average minimum wage for a Zimbabwean is Z$90,000 (182) a month, but a family needs at least Z$938,000 to pay for necessities - barely enough to buy bread, let alone provide for their families. A pint of milk recently rose in price from Z$10,000 to Z$17,000 overnight.

The Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Nicholas Goche, is an example of the shameful behaviour of the Government of Zimbabwe. He has been quoted saying he has been giving his farm workers a paltry Z$10,000 a month.

It's difficult to explain what this means in monetary terms, because the official exchange rate of US$1 to Z$250 is a joke - unofficially, the exchange rate is closer to US$1 to Z$7,000. In that light, the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) demand for a minimum wage of Z$1 million looks more realistic.

People often ask me how ordinary Zimbabweans are coping with this situation, and the sad answer is that increasing numbers simply aren't. One in four Zimbabweans has left the country. Others have returned to the land, scraping a living or, sometimes, starving.

But the trade union movement is still alive and still fighting for the rights and livelihoods of ordinary Zimbabweans. Our general strike this week has shown that we are unbroken, despite the brutal repression of the current regime.

In September 2006, the leadership of the ZCTU was arrested for participating in a peaceful protest for jobs, for measures to counter hyper-inflation, and for greater access to medical treatment. I was among those arrested, tortured and denied access to medical treatment. This is the price that workers in Zimbabwe pay for the right to demonstrate for a living wage.

We subsequently issued the Mugabe Government with a list of proposals to make life more bearable for workers in Zimbabwe. We have been ignored by the Government, so we have been forced into action.

We have already experienced threats and raids on our offices to intimidate us into calling off the strike. ZCTU staff have been beaten up and our flyers, files and video tapes seized. The government has tried to mislead Zimbabweans by placing false stories in the media suggesting that our action has been called off. They claim we are engaged in politics. The only politics that we are engaged in is the politics of the stomach, politics that will ensure that workers earn a living wage.

Falsely accused of fomenting violence, we have urged our supporters only to stay away from work, not to demonstrate in the streets, because of the brutal attacks they would face from the security services.

Despite all this, we must take action - the violence of the security services is nothing compared to the violence of hunger, poverty and disease that ordinary Zimbabweans suffer every day. We are sustained by the support we have received from workers around the world - from Britain and the rest of Europe, from the Americas, from Asia and the Pacific, and especially from our colleagues in Africa. The South African and Nigerian trade union movements in particular have stood with us whenever we have needed their support, and their action demonstrates that the failure of their leaders to stand up to Mugabe does not reflect the views of ordinary Africans. Those trade unionists have experienced dictatorial regimes and have proud traditions of fighting for freedom.

Whatever the regime does in response to our general strike, we will continue to struggle for workers - we have already announced that there will be a national action every three months from now on until the situation in the country improves.

We believe in a better Zimbabwe, where our people are prosperous, healthy and free, and we will not stop fighting for that.

*The writer is president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions

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