Wed, Apr 04, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Two-day general strike in Zimbabwe has little effect

COSTS TOO HIGH Some workers said they simply could not afford to lose some of their salary by joining in the strike, as they are already struggling to make ends meet

AFP , HARARE

A call for a two-day general strike by Zimbabwe's main union organization appeared to have received a cool response yesterday as most shops and services were running as on a normal working day.

Bus companies were running full services while post offices, banks, government offices, supermarkets and high street shops were all open in the center of Harare, according to correspondents in the capital.

Some workers said they simply could not afford to lose some of their salary as they are already struggling to make ends meet.

"Our boss warned that if we did not show up he would simply deduct two days wages for each day," said Alice Ushe, a cashier at a supermarket in Harare that opened as usual at 8am.

"I cannot afford to make society happy by staying at home. I have a family to feed. I need the money because, as it is, my salary is not nearly enough."

There were signs that the strike call had been received more sympathetically in the industrial areas of Willowvale and Southerton in Harare, where some factories were shut and the streets had the feel of a Sunday morning.

A low-level police presence was seen in the streets throughout the capital and several roadblocks had been mounted on roads leading into the city.

Police spokesman, Wayne Bvudzijena, warned on Monday that the elite security force would be deployed across the country to ensure peace.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) launched the general shutdown as opponents of veteran President Robert Mugabe turn up the heat on his beleaguered government.

The ZCTU, formerly headed by Zimbabwe's main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, called the strike, accusing the government of failing to respond to concerns about the worsening economic crisis.

Eighty percent of Zimbabweans are jobless and inflation stands at 1,730 percent, the highest in the world.

Mugabe, 83, who has been in power for 27 years, is widely blamed for the country's political and economic woes.

But recent union demonstrations have been stopped in their tracks by Mugabe's security forces, with several union chiefs arrested in September as major nationwide protests were crushed at the outset.

South African President Thabo Mbeki said that he believed Mugabe would step down peacefully and that the chief challenge for the region was to ensure Zimbabwe has free and fair elections next year. Mbeki was quoted in the Financial Times yesterday as saying he had started mediation following his appointment last week by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to spearhead efforts to resolve Zimbabwe's crisis.

Asked if Mugabe would eventually stand down, Mbeki said he believed he would.

"I think so. Yes, sure," Mbeki said.

"You see, President Mugabe and the leadership of ZANU-PF believe they are running a democratic country," he said.

"That's why you have an elected opposition, that's why it's possible for the opposition to run municipal government [in Harare and Bulawayo]," he said in the interview.

The SADC appointed Mbeki to act as mediator between Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) when it held a summit in Tanzania last week after the Zimbabwe government's violent March 11 crackdown on political opponents.

The South African president dismissed suggestions that Zimbabwe's neighbors could force change in the country.

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