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stand firm against onslaught
May 03, 2007
The crisis in
Zimbabwe has scaled new heights in recent weeks with the arrests,
abductions, beatings, torture and murder of political and trade-union
leaders and activists.
Last year, leaders
of the Zimbabwe
Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) were so severely assaulted they
could not address a Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu)
is ruthlessly trampling on human rights to try to crush the resistance
of opposition parties, civil society organisations and trade unions.
month, the ZCTU fought back with a national stayaway. Workers were
protesting against both government attacks on human rights and the
desperate poverty caused by the collapse of the economy.
on grain handouts and an estimated three million people, about 28%
of the population, have fled to neighbouring countries looking for
work. Many doctors, nurses, teachers and others with scarce skills
do any menial job on offer in the region.
Zimbabwe in 1980 inspired me and many others to redouble our efforts
to defeat apartheid in South Africa. The wave of decolonialisation
sweeping through Africa showed us the enemy could be beaten. Due
to the historical ties between Zanu-PF and the South African liberation
movement, Cosatu was instinctively biased towards Zanu, which defied
the apartheid government.
Why did such
a promising transformation fail? How did Zimbabwe shift from being
the breadbasket to the basket case of the continent?
At first, there
were significant improvements in the living conditions of the formerly
oppressed. There was faster GDP growth and improvements in social
But the underlying
social problems of poverty, unemployment and inequality remained,
made even worse by the International Monetary Fund/World Bank-inspired
economic structural adjustment programmes, which left the government
without a coherent economic strategy. To this were added unfair
terms of trade.
began to move away from redistributive economic policies towards
measures to attract foreign investment. Spending on health, education
and social services was cut. Privatisation and public-service downsizing
led to massive retrenchments.
also failed to address the land question, which had always been
at the core of the liberation struggle.
For 20 years,
the government did nothing. Then it suddenly launched its chaotic
land grabs, disregarding the law and unleashing a wave of violence.
also became increasingly heavy-handed, intolerant of dissent and
political plurality. It ruthlessly repressed trade unions. Meetings
and demonstrations have been banned. The ZCTU has nevertheless stood
firm against the most intolerable attacks.
There are no
quick-fix solutions for the country's economic, political and social
woes, but the key to any solution has to be the broadest possible
mass movement, led by the organised working class.
Cosatu has welcomed
the recent shows of unity displayed by the two MDC factions. This
is the only way to achieve change. The regime will not move in response
to arguments and pleas, but can be forced to back down in the face
of massive protests.
Cosatu is not
calling for a regime change -- that's the business of Zimbabweans.
Our support for the people is aimed at forcing Mugabe to engage
directly with the ZCTU, business and civil society in a bid to open
the road to democracy.
Vavi is general secretary of Cosatu
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