In “an expression of solidarity” with the people of Zimbabwe, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) picketed Zimbabwe’s embassy in South African capital Pretoria on Wednesday, September 23. The protesters hailed the struggle of Zimbabwe’s people against the increasingly exploitative and oppressive government of president Emmerson Mnangagwa .
They demanded that South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) must intervene to stop the ongoing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe under the Mnangagwa-led ZANU-PF’s rule.
The action was supported by the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), to which NUMSA is affiliated, and by the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP), which emerged as a political party from the trade union movement.
We condemn ZANU-PF and Emmerson Mnangagwa for the the relentless brutality they are inflicting on the people of Zimbabwe on a daily basis#ZimbabweanLivesMatter #WorkingClassUnite
— NUMSA (@Numsa_Media) September 23, 2020
“People of Zimbabwe.. removed Mugabe from the throne.. And we were all hoping that things would be different, we were all hoping that the mandate that they claimed Mugabe was not executing, he (Mnangagwa) was going to execute. But Mnangagwa became.. 10 times worse than Mugabe.. Hence we are here today,” said NUMSA president Andrew Chirwa. He added, “we cannot fold our arms and pretend as if nothing is happening to the people of Zimbabwe.”
— Pretoria LIVE (@LivePretoria) September 23, 2020
Most of Zimbabwe’s population is now on the verge of hunger. With an inflation well above 800%, the earnings of an average worker in Zimbabwe have reduced by about 85% over the last two years. The manipulated currency in which they are paid continues to lose value every week, eating further into their purchasing capacity.
“Masses are now faced with twin evils: the lesser evil of COVID-19 and (the greater one of) grinding hunger and poverty which is threatening human existence,” as per Ady Mutero, general secretary of the United Food and Allied Workers Union of Zimbabwe (UFAWUZ). “Hunger and poverty-related afflictions are today killing more than what COVID-19 is able to kill on a daily basis,” he said.
Doctors, nurses and other civil servants – the section of the working class which remains relatively well-organized in unions – have repeatedly gone on strikes, demanding a restoration of wages. These actions have been met with brute force by the state. Prominent union leaders face death threats, and many of them have been abducted and tortured, allegedly by security agents of the state.
The government claims it does not have the resources to restore the purchasing power of its employees. It has nevertheless agreed to give USD 3.5 billion in compensation to the white large farm owners. These were for the “improvements” they made on lands which were redistributed during the land reforms in the early 2000s.
All this has produced enormous discontent among the masses. Talk of a mass-uprising and possibility of civil war has come up in many political circles. The government, however, is determined to suppress demonstrations and other forms of protest. On July 31, when the call for county-wide protests were given by opposition forces, the government deployed the military on the streets.
Government in denial
In spite of the widespread distress, president Mnangagwa remains in denial. “There is no crisis in Zimbabwe and our position as ZANU PF is that the only crisis that is there is actually in the opposition… We now have a scenario whereby the opposition now wants to frame their crisis as a national crisis. It is not the duty of ZANU PF to assume that the crisis in the opposition should be turned into a national crisis,” Tafadzwa Mugwadi, ZANU PF director for information and publicity, had said ahead of the visit of a 10-member delegation from South Africa’s ruling ANC.
Led by the ANC’s secretary-general, Ace Magashule, this delegation arrived in Zimbabwe on September 8 with the agenda of mediating the economic and political crisis in the country. The delegation was snubbed by Zimbabwe’s ruling party, and had to return to South Africa without meeting the opposition. It could only pronounce platitudes about the need for “peace and stability” in Zimbabwe.
At the weekly press-briefing on September 11, ZANU-PF’s leading member, Patrick Chinamasa, said that “South Africa is not a big brother to Zimbabwe.. and has no mediatory role to play in Zimbabwe or in any other country and Zimbabwe is not.. a province of South Africa.”
South Africa’s progressive grassroots movements, which are in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe, see the issue differently.
“As a result of the crisis caused by Zanu PF, our brothers and sisters from Zimbabwe are crossing into our country, trying to get food and what work they can find in our own economic crisis. Many people have been arrested in Musina for crossing over the border to look for food,” said Abahlali baseMjondolo, a shackdwellers’ movement that been in the forefront of the struggle for housing rights in South Africa
“The question is how is it that a country that violates the rights of ordinary citizens in this way is still part of the African Union? Our government has for years recognized Zimbabwe as a democratic country. Our government has endorsed the dictatorship in Zimbabwe. The ANC is loyal to the corrupt and repressive elites in Zanu PF and not to the people of Zimbabwe,” the movement said.
Addressing the picket outside the Zimbabwean embassy, Mthulisi Hanana, a Zimbabwean national from the Zimbabwe African People’s Solidarity Network (ZAPSON), talked about the need for action before a “full-blown crisis” in Zimbabwe.
“Because a crisis in Zimbabwe is a crisis that has the potential to destabilize (the entire region). We need you guys – we need South Africans and every right-thinking African to stand in solidarity, not with the government of Zimbabwe, but with the people of Zimbabwe that have become victims,” he asserted.
“The Zimbabwe Global Solidarity Day is an important day for the working class across the world to engage in more focused intensive action in defense of the working class and peasants of Zimbabwe,” states the solidarity statement of the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) – itself persecuted and criminalized by the country’s ruler King Mswati III.
CPS further expressed support to the demands raised by the Zimbabwe Communist Party, namely: “End corruption and looting; End State brutality against the people of Zimbabwe; No to US$3.5 billion compensation to former White farmers; Pay workers a Living Wage; Restore dignity in Zimbabwe’s Health Care and Education.”