By Farai Sibanda
Bulawayo, September 13, 2013 –Zimbabwean workers on Friday handed President Robert Mugabe’s new administration a foretaste of what to expect during its tenure by staging an anti-government protest over the collapse of the economy and suppression of workers’ rights.
More than 100 workers affiliated to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) on Friday took to the streets of Bulawayo to protest against rising incidents of police brutality.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police had initially attempted to scuttle the demonstration by forbidding the workers from marching but the trade unionists approached the Magistrates Court which overturned the police restrictions.
The demonstration kicked off near the state-run Chronicle newspaper in 9th Avenue and proceeded along George Silundika up to the ZCTU’s offices along 15th Avenue.
During the demonstration, workers sang songs denouncing the police for their high handed interventions and waved placards inscribed with messages that read; “Stop police brutality now”, “Revival of Bulawayo industries now” and “Candles cannot replace ZESA”.
Addressing journalists during the protest, ZCTU western region chairperson Reason Ngwenya said the demonstration also served as a reminder of the brutality unleashed on the labour body’s former leaders in 2006 where the police tortured Wellington Chibebe and Lovemore Matombo among other leaders when they protested against poor salaries and working conditions.
“On this day in the 2006 our leaders were severely beaten by police in Harare after a demonstration and some are still in crutches up to today. We then vowed as a union that we will not stop commemorating this day to remind the world how workers have suffered in Zimbabwe,” said Ngwenya.
“We also want our rights as workers to be respected by the new government. We should exercise and enjoy our freedoms as workers,” he added.
Another ZCTU protest will be held in Harare on Saturday after High Court Judge Justice Nicholas Mathonsi on Thursday overturned attempts by the police to stop it.
ZCTU leaders including Chibebe, the former secretary-general, Matombo the former union president and Lucia Matibenga, who recently served as Labour Minister in the defunct coalition government were arrested and brutally assaulted by police at Matapi Police Station in Harare on September 13, 2006 while demonstrating against deteriorating workers’ living standards at a time of skyrocketing inflation.
Some of the victims of the police attack were permanently injured. Following the incident, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) instituted a commission of enquiry which urged the government to stop the arrests, detentions, violence, interference with unionism and anti-union discrimination of trade unionists.
Seven years after the recommendations, the government is yet to implement the recommendations.