/ 15 April 2008

Tsvangirai warms to run-off as strike flops

The Zimbabwe opposition’s campaign to force the release of results from last month’s presidential election suffered a fresh blow on Tuesday when a call for a general strike went largely unheeded.

Despite the stay-away call by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), most shops and services were open for business as usual and an initial heavy security presence was eased as it became apparent the job boycott had flopped.

The MDC had called for workers to stay at home indefinitely after the High Court on Monday rejected its petition calling on the electoral commission to declare the outcome immediately of the March 29 poll.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai claims he beat President Robert Mugabe (84) outright, but the ruling party says neither man won a clear victory and insists a run-off will be needed.

Tsvangirai, who had previously ruled out his participation in a second ballot, rowed back from that position on Tuesday and indicated he would be prepared to compete if international observers oversee the polls.

In an interview with South Africa’s independent e.tv channel, Tsvangirai (56) accused Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF of trying to lay the groundwork for a run-off that would be fixed in his favour.

”I can tell you honestly that we will not be part of that unless a new electoral environment is assured with the participation of SADC [the Southern African Development Community], participation of the international community,” said the opposition leader.

At an emergency summit in Lusaka at the weekend, SADC offered to send an observer mission for any run-off, but stopped short of criticising the poll result delay or Mugabe’s government.

Normal day

After the double-blow of the soft SADC statement and the rejection of its legal bid, the opposition had hoped its strike call would re-energise efforts to put pressure on the veteran strongman.

But with few people prepared to risk a day’s wages and police vowing to deal severely with any unrest, Harare had the air of a normal working day with long queues at banks and supermarkets where customers lined up to buy bread.

Malvern Konde, a broker with a Harare-based insurance firm, said the strike call had been poorly coordinated between the MDC and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). ”If they [MDC] had joined forces with the ZCTU and other civic groups, it would make an impact,” said Konde.

It was a similar situation in the second city and traditional opposition stronghold of Bulawayo. But, again here, most shops were open.

Martha Sibanda, who runs a second-hand clothes store in Bulawayo, opened for business with a heavy heart. ”I voted and want to know the result, but if I stay away indefinitely, then what is my family going to eat?”

The muted response was not unexpected given that previous general strikes had not been widely observed.

With inflation running at well more than 100 000% and unemployment above 80%, few of those still in work can afford to see their salaries docked.


The opposition has been wary of calling its supporters on to the streets after previous protests have been brutally repressed. Tsvangirai was one of several senior opposition figures who were arrested and assaulted by the security services while trying to attend a rally in Harare in March last year.

Police had warned they would deal ”severely and firmly” with any unrest this time around and deployed reinforcements around the country.

A police statement on Tuesday afternoon said three people had been wounded in attacks that included the torching of one passenger bus and the stoning of another in Harare.

Tensions have been steadily mounting in the Southern African nation over the poll. The opposition said two of its members were killed by Mugabe supporters over the weekend in politically motivated murders.

The MDC on Monday launched a court bid to challenge the result of 60 seats won by Zanu-PF in the simultaneous legislative election.

It is also contesting a decision by the electoral commission to recount 23 constituencies on Saturday, a development that could see the ruling party overturn the opposition’s slim parliamentary majority. — Sapa-AFP