/ 16 March 2008

Zim union urges expats to cross the Limpopo

Zimbabwe’s main labour union on Sunday called on millions of Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa to go home to vote in the country’s March 29 elections, South Africa’s Talk Radio 702 reported.

Zimbabweans will vote in presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections in two weeks, in which analysts say President Robert Mugabe faces the greatest challenge to his 28-year rule due to an economic meltdown and opposition candidates including a ruling party renegade.

”The situation back home is unfolding, therefore I appeal to them to cross the Limpopo and come and cast their votes,” Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) Secretary General Wellington Chibebe told Talk Radio 702.

An estimated three million Zimbabweans live and work in South Africa, out of a total Zimbabwean population of about 12-million.

The 84-year-old Zanu-PF leader Mugabe faces a strong challenge from Simba Makoni, his former finance minister who will run as an independent candidate, and opposition Movement for Democratc Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Working class urban dwellers are the stronghold of the opposition MDC, but many of these have left the country as economic migrants to countries including South Africa.

Mugabe’s challengers and critics accuse him of buying votes to win the elections.

The South African Press Agency quoted Chibebe as saying: ”The government has doled out billions of Zim dollars to the members of the armed forces as unsolicited loans. This is daylight vote-buying.”

Critics say subsidised loans and farm equipment for farmers, as well as promises by Mugabe last week to increase government workers’ salaries also amount to vote-buying.

Zimbabweans have suffered from the world’s highest inflation — over 100 000% a year — which has eroded incomes in the southern African country. Some teachers, the bulk of state workers, are on strike and doctors have also threatened to strike, crippling essential services.

In power since independence from Britain in 1980, Mugabe denies mismanaging the economy and says it has been sabotaged by Western states as punishment for his land reforms which include confiscating farms from white farmers. – Reuters