Tension As ‘Zim Shutdown’ Begins

ZIMBABWE faces a virtual standstill today, with civil servants and other workers expected to stay away from work in what has been termed a “national shutdown”.

Civil servants embarked on a nationwide strike yesterday in protest against the government’s unilateral decision to delay payment of their salaries.

Pupils at most schools were yesterday sent back home, as teachers were not taking classes, while the country’s main referral hospitals reported they were working with skeletal staff and only attending to emergencies.

Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (Zimta) secretary-general John Mlilo confirmed they were downing tools, but said it was not a strike, but “incapacitation”.

“We have decided to call it incapacitation because workers have obligations, they have taken out loans to augment their salaries that government has since failed to pay on time,” he said.

“By failing to pay, the government has negatively affected the routine in which these workers pay back their debts little by little. At the end of the day, the worker is the ultimate loser because those that give them loans will just add interest.”

A Zimta circular despatched to members last Tuesday read: “Following the unilateral shifting of pay dates and the subsequent consultative meeting held on July 2 by all civil servants, it was resolved that owing to incapacitation, our valued membership will not be able to report for duty from July 5 until the impasse is resolved.

“All civil servants stay at home from July 5 to July 7. All civil servants heed this call, no one will be victimised, our demands will be met,” the teachers’ body, normally accused of being in bed with the Zanu PF government, said.

Nurses and doctors at Harare Central Hospital, Mpilo Central Hospital and United Bulawayo Hospitals downed tools yesterday, with skeleton staff only attending to emergencies.

“Please note that due to the unfortunate industrial action by some members of the team, the hospital will attend to emergency cases only. All elective lists have been cancelled until further notice,” an S Ngwenya from the office of the clinical director said in a memorandum to staff at Mpilo Central Hospital.

To alleviate the effects of the strike, Health and Child Care secretary Gerald Gwinji on Monday enlisted the services of the military to help at hospitals.

“Assistance is required from the defence forces to augment coverage for emergency services, especially in central hospitals in Harare and Bulawayo,” he said in a statement.

“The requested staff includes nurses, doctors and medical laboratory scientists.”

Groups of activists last week began campaigning for a nationwide shutdown beginning today “until (President Robert) Mugabe goes” and the build-up has since seen violent clashes between police and protesters, first in Beitbridge and then in parts of Harare on Monday.

Opposition parties have urged their members to join the protest action being co-ordinated by groups such as #ThisFlag, #Tajamuka/Sijikile and vendors.

#ThisFlag campaign leader, Evan Mawarire, yesterday called for non-violent protests. His call for peaceful protests came as police spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, threatened to clamp down on the organisers of the protests.

As tensions rose over the planned mass action, the effects are being felt in neighbouring countries, where caution is being advised before travelling to Zimbabwe.

A memorandum by the South Africa’s International Cross-Border Traders’ Association called on the group’s members to “cancel all trips to Zimbabwe”.

“There should be no loading of buses and trucks that will fail to complete the trips on July 5, 2016 midnight. The Musina Taxi Association will be monitoring the movement of vehicles at Beitbridge,” the association said, adding this was part of a process to force the government of Zimbabwe to reverse its ban on the movement of mainly foodstuffs between the two countries.

Elsewhere, United Kingdom-based Zimbabwean demonstrators yesterday door-stepped Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa for the second time inside two days as he arrived for the fundraising conference at Chatham House international affairs think-tank in London and heckled him for nearly two hours.

The protesters quizzed Chinamasa over the missing $15 billion diamond revenue before British police intervened and escorted him away.

They were later joined by former Finance minister and opposition People’s Democratic Party leader Tendai Biti, who is also attending the conference.