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Zimbabwe union leader arrested after general strike call

22 January, 2019Japhet Moyo, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), was arrested at Harare airport yesterday morning and charged with subversion after a ZCTU call for a general strike against a dramatic fuel price hike.

The arrest comes after more than a week of turmoil in Zimbabwe that left 12 people dead and hundreds injured. Police and soldiers, responding to mass demonstrations on 14 January, used live ammunition on protesters.

On 15 January, police raided the home of ZCTU president Peter Mutasa, destroying property. He was not home at the time, and his whereabouts are unknown. His brother, who was home, was severely beaten. Mutasa’s “crime” was recording and circulating a video calling on workers to take part in the general strike from 14-16 January to peacefully protest government policy.

Japhet Moyo – who was not in Zimbabwe at the time of the strike call - was arrested at the airport upon his return to the country and charged with subversion for the part he allegedly played.

The president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, Obert Masaraure, was abducted, tortured and imprisoned. According to a tweet, in his last call to a friend he says: “I’m not ok; they (security forces) are breaking in.”

Zimbabwe is experiencing a spiraling financial crisis. A currency collapse in 2009 lead the country to use the US dollar instead of its own currency, but it lacks the foreign exchange reserves to meet its obligations. Prices have risen dramatically, and purchasing power has collapsed. Early in January, the country’s 305,000 civil servants gave notice of strike action after they were paid in the local currency called the bond note instead of dollars.

On 12 January, the government raised fuel prices by over 200 per cent, making Zimbabwean petrol the most expensive in the world. The next day, the ZCTU called a three-day general strike, which was supported by a number of civil society organizations. Widespread anger led thousands to take part in mass demonstrations – not called for by the ZCTU – which included looting and property destruction. This led to a brutal crackdown by the security forces. The government also shut down the internet, making communication difficult.

IndustriALL Global Union general secretary Valter Sanches wrote to Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, calling on him release Japhet Moyo and guarantee the safety of Peter Mutasa:

“We are calling for an end to the persecution and harassment of union leaders, and for the government to engage in social dialogue that involves trade unions and other stakeholders to resolve the economic crisis in Zimbabwe and to arrest the hyperinflation environment that is impoverishing workers. We believe that sound economic policies, whose formulation is inclusive, are some of the ways to deal with the crisis.”