Public sector workers in Zimbabwe divided over strike after talks fail

Empty shelves are seen inside a supermarket looted during recent protests in Harare, Zimbabwe. Picture: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

Empty shelves are seen inside a supermarket looted during recent protests in Harare, Zimbabwe. Picture: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

Published Jan 30, 2019


Harare - Zimbabwe's public sector unions

were divided on Wednesday over whether to launch a national

strike after wage talks with the government failed, leaving the

country on edge over the possibility of more unrest.

Zimbabwe was rocked by violent protests for three days in

mid-January that led to a brutal security crackdown.

The security forces' heavy-handed response raised fears that

under President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the country was sliding back

into the kind of authoritarianism seen during Robert Mugabe's

37-year rule.

Mnangagwa's spokesman said troops would stay on the streets

and the state would block the internet again if violence flared.

Teachers and other state workers are demanding wage rises

and payments in dollars to help them stave off spiralling

inflation and an economic crisis that has sapped supplies of

cash, fuel and medicines in state hospitals.

Rights groups say at least 12 people were killed this month

after a three-day stay-at-home strike over a fuel price hike led

to street protests and a crackdown by security services. The

government says three people died.

At a meeting with unions, the government proposed to give

land to build houses and food hampers for employees, union

officials said. Public sector unions had on Monday issued the

government with a 48-hour ultimatum to make a new salary offer

or face a strike.

The Apex Council, which represents 17 public sector unions,

then failed to agree on whether to hold a strike during a short

meeting that broke down as officials accused each other of

either working for the opposition or the government.

"The Apex Council meeting ended prematurely and people

walked out. There is no consensus. How do we go on strike when

our fellow unions are coming and saying some unions were paid?"

said Raymond Majongwe, secretary general of the Progressive

Teachers Union of Zimbabwe.

He said his union was among those accused by colleagues of

being paid by the opposition and donors to go on strike and

cause violence, charges he denied.

The biggest teachers union has called for a strike on Feb.



Mnangagwa - who came to power in November 2017 after

long-time ruler Mugabe was forced to resign in a coup - promised

to revive the economy and break with Mugabe politics.

But frustration over the economic crisis is building and

analysts say the pace of economic and political reform is too

slow for impatient citizens.

Mnangagwa on Wedneaday picked a 24-member advisory council

to advise him on economic reforms, a government source said.

The 76-year-old leader has promised to investigate the

crackdown on protesters and to bring in measures to tackle the

economic crisis but the opposition does not trust him.

His spokesman said it would take time to rebuild an economy

that had been suffering for decades.

"There are key bread and butter questions which government

cannot dodge, things are tough," George Charamba told a

state-owned Harare radio station.

"But it would be a sad day to think that the only way that

we can remedy such a problem is by causing further damage to

that already damaged economy through mayhem, through looting,

through chaos."

Charamba said police and soldiers would stay on the streets

and that government would shut the internet again if violence

broke out. He previously said the crackdown was a foretaste of

how the government would react to future protests.