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Zimbabwe general strike flops PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 16 April 2008

AFP, HARARE - The Zimbabwe opposition's campaign to force the release of results from last month's presidential election suffered a fresh blow on Tuesday when a call for a general strike went largely unheeded.

Despite the stay-away call by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), most shops and services were open for business as usual and an initial heavy security presence was eased as it became apparent the job boycott had flopped.

The MDC had called for workers to stay at home indefinitely after the high court on Monday rejected its petition calling on the electoral commission to immediately declare the outcome of the March 29 poll.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai claims he beat 84-year-old President Robert Mugabe outright, but the ruling party says neither man won a clear victory and insists a run-off will be necessary. With few people prepared to risk a day's wages and police vowing to deal severely with any unrest, Harare had the air of a normal working day with long queues at banks and supermarkets where customers lined up to buy bread. Malvern Konde, a broker with a Harare-based insurance firm, said the strike call had been poorly coordinated between the MDC and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

"There was no proper co-ordination with the ZCTU, so we cannot be seen to be observing a stay-away called by a political party and not the labour unions," said Konde.

"If they (MDC) had joined forces with the ZCTU and other civic groups it would make an impact." It was a similar situation in the second city of Bulawayo, a traditional opposition stronghold, but where most shops were open. Martha Sibanda, who runs a second-hand clothes store in Bulawayo, opened for business with a heavy heart.

"I voted and want to know the result, but if I stay away indefinitely then what is my family going to eat?" The MDC tried to put on a brave face, saying it was "satisfied that the strike call has largely been heeded." "Those (shops) that opened did so under duress, under threats to have their licences withdrawn by the state and the staffing levels there are very thin.

Most people did not turn up for work," said its chief spokesman Nelson Chamisa. The muted response to the strike call was not unexpected given that previous general strikes have not been widely observed. With inflation running at well over 100,000 percent and unemployment above 80 percent, few of those still in work can afford to see their salaries docked.

The opposition has been wary of calling its supporters onto the streets after previous protests have been brutally repressed. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was one of a series of senior opposition figures who were arrested and assaulted by the security services while trying to attend a rally in Harare in March last year.

The party's number two, secretary-general Tendai Biti, said in a radio interview Tuesday that supporters should stay at home rather than take to the streets and risk a confrontation with the security services. "The calls that have been made inside Zimbabwe are not for any physical confrontation with the dictator. The calls that have been are for mere staying away from work. Stay inside so there won't be anybody in the street," he said.

"It is a call for protest, it is a call for stay-away. So stay away from work. That imposes little, minimum risk." Police announced on Monday that they intended to deal "severely and firmly" with any unrest and that both police and army reinforcements had been deployed.

"The (strike) is aimed at disturbing peace and will be resisted firmly by the law enforcement agents whose responsibility is to maintain law and order in any part of the country," national police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said.

Tensions have been steadily mounting in the southern African nation over the poll, which Tsvangirai says he won outright while Mugabe's ruling party is preparing for a run-off. The opposition claims that two of its members were killed by Mugabe supporters over the weekend in what it described as politically motivated murders.

The MDC on Monday launched a court bid to challenge the result of 60 seats won by Mugabe's ZANU-PF party in a simultaneous legislative election. It is also contesting a decision by the electoral commission to recount 23 constituencies which could overthrow their parliamentary majority.

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