Trade union leaders’ remand extended by courts in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president Peter Mutasa and secretary-general Japhet Moyo continue to face death threats while being out on bail under police remand.

August 26, 2019 by Pavan Kulkarni
Protests in Zimbabwe against extension of remand of Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Peter Mutasa and secretary-general Japhet Moyo.

A magistrate in Harare has extended the remand of Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Peter Mutasa and secretary-general Japhet Moyo until October 2. The ZCTU is the county’s largest trade union, affiliated to the main centrist opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

In January, during the labor protests triggered by the 150% hike in fuel price, over a thousand people, including Mutasa and Moyo, were arrested, along with Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) president Obert Masaraure.  All three leaders were charged with treason.

Released on bail since February, they continue to be in police remand. Under remand, the leaders were initially required to report to the police station daily. This was later relaxed to once a fortnight, and currently, they must report to the station on the last Friday of every month.

Japhet Moyo informed the Peoples Dispatch that as part of the conditions of the remand, “we were required to surrender the title deeds of the properties and houses we own. And we are not supposed to be involved in similar calls for any strike actions.” On August 20, the government filed an application to extend their remand till November.

Messages expressing solidarity with the leaders and their cause poured in from unions outside the continent as well. Dave Prentis, general secretary of UNISON, the United Kingdom’s largest union, wrote to the British government on August 19, asking it to call on Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa to drop the treason charges and address the economic crisis while respecting the rights of workers. He also demanded that the numerous death threats issued against the ZCTU leaders this year be denounced.

Tim Rouche, general secretary of the GMB, another British trade union, expressed solidarity on its behalf and called the persecution of the leaders an “unjust trial for organizing a stay-away, calling for an end to the economic crisis.”

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) Global called on the Zimbabwe government to drop the charges against the ZCTU leaders, arguing that they “have done nothing other than exercise their right to organize and call for an end to the economic crisis in Zimbabwe.” The largest trade union federation in the United States, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), has also sent solidarity messages to the ZCTU.

However, the Harare magistrate has extended their remand until October 2. “Time and again,” Moyo said, “when we appeared before the magistrate, our matter has been remanded forward. The state has been giving various reasons why they continuously defer our matter. Initially, it was about ‘further investigation’. When they were then challenged about what kind of investigations are they doing, they then changed the reason to the fact that we are supposed to be indicted to high court.”

The reason given for the further extension of their remand on August 21, he added, “is still that they are waiting for the papers for an indictment to the high court. Our lawyers have filed applications for refusal of our further remand on several occasions, but without any success.”

Police reluctant to investigate death threats

On August 15, a day ahead of the protests called by the MDC in Harare, the leaders received death threats again, warning them against participating in the event. A petition filed to the police by their lawyers on August 16 read, “We write to bring to your attention and formally request you to cause an investigation into various threats of death received by our client on Thursday, August 15, 2019 at 18:14 hrs, through an SMS on his mobile phone which read as follows ‘IF YOU GO AND GIVE A SOLIDARITY MSG TOMORROW U ARE DEAD’. The message was sent using an Econet subscriber number 263786645911.”

In a separate message, Japhet Moyo was also threatened that his residence and that of his family’s were known and that they may be attacked. “If you happen to set your foot at the MDC alliance demonstration on August 16, the bullet you once received as a parcel shall pass through your head. Be warned against giving solidarity message tomorrow, your family still needs you.” On June 16, the two leaders had received a death threat in a letter accompanied with a parcel carrying a bullet. A number of activists who had received such threats have been abducted in the recent past.

Earlier in June, ARTUZ president Obert Masaraure was abducted by armed and masked men from his house at midnight, following a successful three-day strike by the 35,000 member-strong teachers’ union. The kidnappers drove him to a bush 15 km from his house, stripped him naked and tortured him for hours before abandoning him there. Rather than taking any action to nab the kidnappers, “the police are harassing me for lodging a complaint,” Masaraure had told Peoples Dispatch.

Moyo said that the police were informed about every death threat they received. “The police merely noted our statements, but have never come back to us to explain what kind of investigation they were undertaking,” he said, adding that every telephone number in Zimbabwe is registered and that if the police wanted to, it would not be difficult to find the owner.

The protest scheduled by the MDC in the capital on August 16 was finally banned by the government. Some of the leaders who defied the ban and came out with their supporters to hold demonstrations were attacked by the police, who made use of batons, tear gas and water cannons. A number of other protests, planned in different cities, have also been banned.

The eNCA has reported that at least four opposition leaders have been abducted since then. On August 21, three masked men, armed with AK-47s, barged into the residence of Samantha Kureya, a well-known television satirist who has performed skits critical of the government. These men identified themselves as police officers at her door. However, upon entering, they stripped her naked and beat her up.

She was then forced onto a pick-up truck and taken to an unknown location, where she was told, “You mock the government and we have been monitoring you”. After being assaulted physically, she was forced to drink sewage water. Fearing for her life, the satirist is presently in hiding. Reports indicate that the vehicle used to abduct her was the same that was employed in many of the ten other recent abductions.

Being unable to address the severe economic crisis, the insecurity of the government is becoming increasingly evident, with the targets of such abductions expanding from union leaders and opposition politicians to artists who are critical of the government.