The repression of trade unionists has been a permanent scar on Zimbabwe’s political landscape since the early 1990s, but ever since President Mnangagwa took over from Mugabe in 2017, many say the climate of fear has worsened. Hundreds of trade unionists and campaigners continue to be harassed, arrested and abducted for peacefully gathering to express their frustration. At least 18 people have been killed in demonstrations.
Trade union leaders face long term prison
Leaders of the confederation ZCTU, President Peter Mutasa and Secretary General Japhet Moyo, are currently on trial for “attempting to overthrow a constitutionally elected government or alternatively inciting violence” as a result of organising a six-day work ‘stay away’ in January 2019 against inflation, rising fuel costs and shortages of daily food essentials.
Mutasa, Moyo, other members of the ZCTU leadership and their families have faced harassment and death threats in recent weeks. The court case has been postponed until 20 November and Moyo and Mutasa are facing a 20-year jail term if convicted. Twenty other trade unionists in the eastern border town of Mutare are also on trial (for bigotry) for engaging in a demonstration.
Unions are calling for an end to the casualisation of labour, an end to the late and non-payment of wages, the introduction of minimum redundancy packages and end to the victimisation of workers’ representatives.
Public sector demonstration met by brutal security forces
Zimbabwe’s unions urgently want public sector workers to enjoy the same rights to collectively bargain and strike as workers in the private sector. Public Workers’ Trade Unions recently staged a historic protest against the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. The protest action was a direct response to the erosion of workers’ salaries by the skyrocketing inflation due to the unstable macro and micro-economic environment which has resulted in the plummeting living standards of teachers and all civil servants alike over the last 2 years.
A procession of all the Public Sector Unions was intended to proceed to the offices of the Ministry of Finance. However, as the protest had gained momentum, the security forces barricaded both sides of the street and with maximum force manhandled the union leaders and membership. A teacher unionist, Tryvine Musokeri, was brutally dragged away by 6 armed policemen.
Abductions and torture
Dozens of pro-democracy campaigners, trade unionists and opposition officials have been abducted by suspected state security services since contested elections last year. Most have been released after several hours, though many have been badly beaten, stripped, threatened or otherwise mistreated.
In September, the acting president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, Dr Peter Magombeyi, made international headlines after he was abducted from his home in Harare by suspected state security agents for organising a strike by government doctors to demand better salaries. He was held in an unknown location for five days before being discovered on the side of a road, disoriented and injured. Allegedly tortured and poisoned by his captors, he underwent medical treatment in South Africa.
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association
In September, thanks in part to lobbying from the international trade union movement, the Zimbabwe government invited the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association to assess the situation in the country. A final report from the human rights expert will not be presented at the Human Rights Council until the meeting in June 2020. But he recently called on the government to create an enabling environment for civil society, protect the rights of citizens to organise and assemble, and withdraw all criminal charges against trade unionists.