/ 21 April 2008

Campaign against Zim arms gains momentum

A campaign to prevent arms currently aboard a Chinese ship from reaching Zimbabwe gained momentum on Monday with trade unions calling on their counterparts not to allow the vessel to dock at any African port.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) called for an international boycott of the vessel.

”Cosatu is doing everything possible to alert the international trade-union movement to the danger to the workers of Zimbabwe if the cargo is allowed to be unloaded and delivered to [Zimbabwe President Robert] Mugabe’s forces.

”The federation is writing to its comrades in other federations, including those of Angola and China, to enlist their support for the international workers’ boycott,” the union said in a statement.

South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) secretary general Randall Howard also called on trade unions and employers in all African countries to prevent the vessel from docking and to refuse to handle or transport its ”lethal cargo”.

”We have a moral obligation to provide solidarity that does not allow the Mugabe regime to continue to undermine human and trade-union rights with impunity.

”We are not puppets of any imperialist forces as we equally deplore imperialism that undermines the sovereignty of African nation states to determine their own destinies,” he said.

The ship, the An Yue Jiang, carrying three million rounds of 7,62mm bullets (used in the AK47 assault rifle), 69 rocket-propelled grenades and mortar bombs and tubes docked in Durban on April 14.

It, however, left on April 18 after the Durban High Court ordered that its controversial cargo could not be transported across South Africa to Zimbabwe. Satawu members also refused to offload the cargo from the ship.

Anglican bishop Rubin Phillips, with Patrick Kearney, a former activist and executive of the Diakonia Council of Churches, applied to the court to prevent the weapons from reaching Zimbabwe.

The tense political situation in Zimbabwe has been described as a ”crisis” since its March 29 election results have yet to be released, a ploy, the Zimbabwean opposition claims, by Mugabe to hang on to power and resist a change in government.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), to which Satawu is affiliated, had already prevented the vessel from docking in Maputo after making an urgent request to the Mozambican government not to allow it to enter the port there.

”Satawu wishes to commend the Mozambican government for the correct moral stance they had taken to advance the possibilities of genuine democracy, peace and economic development,” the union said.

It said it had learned that the vessel was on route to Angola to offload the cargo and transport the weapons over land.

”We shall not rest until the weapons destined for Zimbabwe are returned to Beijing. We shall not become an accomplice to the repression and brutality of the Zimbabwean masses who only yearn for peace and genuine democracy,” Howard said.

”In the Zimbabwean context, we are happy to be accused of being puppets of genuine democracy underpinned by a culture of respect for human and trade-union rights, which we continue to struggle for in Africa and beyond, ” said Howard.

The international campaign to prevent the arms from landing on Zimbabwean soil was themed: ”Workers of the World Unite in Solidarity with the workers and people of Zimbabwe for Democracy, Peace and Food! Not Lethal Weapons to Kill and Repress! Return to Beijing Now!”. — Sapa