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We will not be silent on state-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe, say South African metalworkers

24 September, 2020The banning of protests, abductions and torture of activists and students, arrests of journalists and the intimidation of trade unions are not issues that we will be silent about,  says the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA).

NUMSA, which is affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, organized a picket at the Zimbabwean Embassy in Pretoria, 23 September, to protest workers and human rights’ abuses in the country. The picket is a response to the International Day of Action called by ITUC-Africa to protest labour and human rights violations in Zimbabwe.

The union was joined at the picket by civil society organizations that are protesting the violations using the online campaign #ZimbabweanLivesMatter that is highlighting the abuses and has received global support. The online campaign emerged after social media became one of the only ways to protest after the government of Zimbabwe banned demonstrations against Covid-19 procurement corruption and the deteriorating social and economic crisis in the country that were planned for 31 July.

Unemployment is high and wages for most workers are only US $30 per month, meaning that workers are living in poverty. When Zimbabwean unions campaigned for living wages to protect workers’ wages against the low wages and hyperinflation, which is over 800 per cent, they were labelled “terrorist organizations.”

According to the UN World Food Programme, over eight million people need emergency relief support to avoid starvation.

Activists, students, journalists, and the organizers of the 31 July demonstration were arrested, abducted and tortured, charged in the courts with trying to overthrow the government and accused of “inciting violence” or disregarding Covid-19 regulations. The demonstrations were stifled by a heavy police and army presence and the few who took placards out to the streets were arrested.

Booker prize nominee for 2020, Tsitsi Dangarembga, whose novel This Mournable Body has been shortlisted, was also arrested for “inciting violence” and “bigotry.”

NUMSA demands include that the African Union must investigate the human rights violations and hold the government accountable. Further, the judiciary must be independent, and freedom of association respected. Media freedoms should also be respected and charges against journalists and other political prisoners withdrawn.

Andrew Chirwa, NUMSA president said:

 “Instead of addressing the crisis, the Zimbabwean government has responded with brutality and repression. The country is in the grip of state-sponsored violence against its people. We demand workers’ freedom to participate in activities of any trade unions of their choice and that their right to strike be protected.”

Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa said:

“We call upon the government of Zimbabwe to respect international labour standards. Trade unions play an important role in improving the welfare of workers and working class communities, but they can only do so when their freedoms and rights are respected.”

IndustriALL’s 10 affiliates in Zimbabwe, that organize in the chemical and plastics, energy, engineering, metal, mining, manufacturing, and textile, garment shoe and leather sectors, welcomed the support from NUMSA which they said strengthened not only international solidarity, but their resolve to continue fighting for workers’ and human rights.