Fear crippled a national strike called by Zimbabwe unions on Tuesday as workers, companies and shops heeded government warnings to continue with business in an economy verging on collapse.
President Robert Mugabe’s government says the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) called the strike as part of a plot by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to oust it and promised tough action against any open protests.
The ZCTU said the two-day stayaway action was spurred by Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, which has seen inflation soar to more than 1Ã‚Â 700% and left most workers struggling both to pay their bills and feed their families.
The government sent a helicopter patrol winging over the city while riot police patrolled central Harare, but there were few visible signs of increased police presence in industrial districts and restive townships.
Journalists who drove around Harare’s industrial areas early on Tuesday found many firms operating as usual, as well as the normal hordes of job seekers waiting outside factory gates seeking employment in an economy in freefall.
Banks, offices and shops were also open in the capital’s central business district and a journalist in Zimbabwe’s second largest city of Bulawayo said many businesses there appeared to be operating normally.
”Zimbabweans are very risk averse and in this case they are unsure of the benefits of the stayaway but very sure of the possibility of the wrath of the state,” Eldred Masunungure, a leading political commentator said.
The ZCTU say workers want a minimum wage of Z$1-million ($4Ã‚Â 000 on the official market but worth $50 on the black market) and for the government to resolve an economic meltdown and increase access to AIDS drugs.
The ZCTU accused authorities of intimidation but said the job boycott was successful.
”Considering the bashing of people and intimidation we have witnessed recently, it [strike] has been quite successful,” ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo told Reuters.
”It has been more effective in industries where some workers have stayed at home,” Matombo added.
Matombo said earlier he hoped workers would risk open defiance to protest against an economic crisis that has seen the country battle the world’s highest inflation rate, unemployment of more than 80% and frequent shortages of food and fuel.
An executive at a Harare clothing factory said almost all his 50 employees had turned up for work, and one of them, Dickson Mapara, said that they feared losing their jobs in such a hard economic environment.
”I understand what the ZCTU is trying to do for us … but things are so hard I cannot afford to lose this job, and although I get very little, I cannot afford to get nothing at all,” he said as some of his colleagues shouted at a Reuters reporter to get off the premises.
Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena said four people were arrested in a poor township after blockading roads and stoning commuter buses carrying people to work, while a bus belonging to a state bus company was also pelted in another township.
The job action comes as Mugabe faces international condemnation over a crackdown last month, which left main MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai injured and hospitalised after police stopped a banned prayer rally.Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) led a protest march to the Zimbabwe consulate in central Johannesburg on Tuesday.
The crowd of about 300, many wearing red Cosatu T-shirts, marched peacefully from Library Gardens to the consulate in nearby Anderson street.
They carried placards with slogans such as ”Hang Mugabe”, ”Mugabe must repent or perish”, ”We want guns now to blow out Mugabe’s head” and ”Mugabe I will kill you in person”.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande addressed the marchers before setting off for the consulate, where Vavi spoke to the crowd again.
The protesters had a memorandum of demands ready to present to consulate officials. — Reuters, Sapa