Opposition support is strong in the cities
Business in Zimbabwe's capital has ground to a
halt after workers began a general strike in
protest at what unions see as a collapse of
law and order.
Early reports say the usual morning rush
in Harare and other towns and cities failed to
take place, and commercial farms also seemed
to be observing the strike. Most shops and
factories also remained closed.
The one-day stoppage was called by the
powerful Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions
following months of escalating violence ahead
of the recent elections, and continued
occupations of white-owned farms by
supporters of President Robert Mugabe.
The stoppage has won the backing of white
commecial farmers and the main opposition
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The government has condemned the action as
illegal and has warned that it intends to step
up its controversial land resettlement
Correspondents expect the strike to be
strongest in cities and towns, where recent
election results suggest profound
dissatisfaction with President Mugabe's
But what was planned as a three-day strike
was reduced at the last minute to a
A union official said the leadership had
to limit the stoppage to Wednesday to give the
government a chance to respond.
"If the government does not respond, we
will go on a much longer strike," said acting
ZCTU Secretary-General Nicholas
The unions called the strike because they say
the government is refusing to stop intimidation
and attacks on farmers and labourers by the
self-styled war veterans who are occupying
hundreds of white-owned farms.
Some war veterans are refusing government
orders to quit the farms they occupied, and
the situation has been described by the
Commercial Farmers' Union, which represents
white farmers, as close to "total anarchy".
Vice-President Joseph Msika has confirmed
that the land resettlement programme will be
expanded to take in 3,000 white-owned farms,
about 75% of the total.
The army will be used to provide
Our correspodent says, however, that
Zimbabwe does not have the financial
resources to carry out such an ambitious
programme which would, in any event, lead to
complete economic collapse.
The government has already announced the
devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar in what it
said was a short-term measure to arrest the
current economic decline.
Finance and Economic Development Minister
Simba Makoni said the exchange rate had been
depreciated from the current level of 38 to 50
Zimbabwe dollars to the US dollar.
Dr Makoni told the press the devaluation
ensure that the exchange rate promoted
export competitiveness and economic growth.
The business community had described the
rate as unsustainable.
Harare, Zimbabwe, Aug. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Following are comments from Eddie Cross, secretary of economic affairs for Zimbabwe's biggest opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, on the 24 percent devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar. He also talks about today's national strike and the meeting between the South African and Zimbabwean presidents, Thabo Mbeki and Robert Mugabe:
On the devaluation:
``I don't think that its enough. It's too little but we've got to welcome it. It's a welcome sign that the new cabinet members are having some influence.
``A partial devaluation of the (Zimbabwe) dollar is not enough for the big industries such as gold and tobacco to be profitable.''
It won't do ``a great deal to inflation. The bulk of the economy is already trading at 65 (Zimbabwe dollars) to 1 (U.S. dollar.
``It's obviously going to impact on the cost of fuel. I would imagine that would have to go up again.
``That's going to cause a lot of unhappiness. The average Zimbabwean spends 15 percent of his salary on commuting.''
On the one-day national strike:
``This is the first truly national strike we've had. Previous strikes have been by urban workers on macroeconomic policy and taxation.''
On the meeting between Mbeki and Mugabe:
``Our indication is that South Africa has hardened its position towards Zimbabwe. Mbeki has to do something about Zimbabwe.
HARARE (Reuters) - President Robert Mugabe's political and economic critics vented their anger at Zimbabwe's slide toward anarchy Wednesday with a largely peaceful one-day strike that paralyzed the country.
Shops and factories were closed and streets deserted in the three major cities -- Harare, Bulawayo and Masvingo -- as farmers, workers and the political opposition delivered the most broadly based challenge yet to Mugabe's 20-year rule.
Mugabe made no public appearances Wednesday, but spent part of the day in talks with visiting South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has said his country will help Zimbabwe recover from its deep economic crisis.
``This visit is in line with the commitment that the South African government made earlier this year to support the Zimbabwean government,'' a South African spokeswoman said.
Police said they arrested several youths who laid rock barricades across roads in dormitory townships around Harare.
In Norton, about 25 miles west of the capital, police arrested two men who tried to take over a white-owned farm, but then looked on as a bigger mob of self-styled war veterans brandishing automatic weapons arrived to take possession of the farm and threatened reporters interviewing farm staff.
The strike came a day after Mugabe's new finance minister, former businessman Simba Makoni, bowed to market pressure and devalued the Zimbabwe dollar by 24 percent to 50 to the U.S. dollar. The unit trades informally at 60 to the U.S. dollar.
Market analysts said the devaluation would encourage exports and boost desperately low foreign reserves, which would help farmers and manufacturers import necessary supplies and relieve a persistent fuel crisis.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) called the strike to protest against political intimidation and the occupation of hundreds of white-owned farms by self-styled veterans of the former Rhodesia's 1970s liberation war.
STRIKE HAS POLITICAL AND LABOR BACKING
The strike was backed by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the mainly white Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), who said nothing was being done to rein in government supporters angry at their ZANU-PF party's poor showing in parliamentary elections in June.
The MDC, highlighting the near collapse of Zimbabwe's economy, won 57 seats to the ruling party's 62 as ZANU-PF targeted the white domination of productive farmland.
In contrast with their usually heavy-handed response to strikes, police operated only small patrols and soldiers were not in evidence as the country ground to a halt Wednesday.
Chief Superintendent Wayne Bvudzijena told Reuters: ``We have not heard of any major incidents on farms. There were two or three incidents in Harare townships where people put stones on the road and police dealt with that.''
A CFU spokesman said the Norton incident was the only one reported during the day.
``We hope the police will handle the case professionally. Overall, the reports we have are that it was mostly quiet on the farms, with many on strike,'' the spokesman said.
Acting ZCTU president Isaac Matongo said only civil servants turned up for work, after being warned the strike could cost them their jobs.
``The indications we have are that the call for a work stoppage has been heeded. We estimate 80 to 90 percent of the people did not go to work,'' he told Reuters.
A government spokesman said, however, the strike was a flop with civil servants including teachers and nurses at work.
``Factories and private industry would have been functioning if employers had not locked out their workers. The so-called strike is a flop. Those who have not gone to work have not done so voluntarily,'' said the spokesman, who asked not to be named.
The government has said the strike could further damage the already battered economy and increase unemployment.
Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wonder Maisiri told Reuters the strike could not be separated from the current political environment adding: ``The strike is costly, but so is the political environment that has caused it.''
STRIKE SEEN HITTING EXPORTS
Joseph Muzulu, chief economist at banking group Finhold, said the strike would hit export production.
``There are things which are time-bound, like flowers, and these will be heavily affected. There is going to be heavy loss in output and foreign exchange,'' he said.
With foreign exchange reserves estimated around one day's imports, unemployment at 50 percent, inflation at 60 percent and interest rates around 70 percent, Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980.
Mugabe had resisted devaluation because it would impact on voters already fighting runaway inflation, but analysts said Makoni probably had persuaded the government of the need to send a positive signal to investors and Western donors.
Exporters including tobacco farmers have been holding back crops and export earnings, expecting a devaluation.
The ZCTU, apparently sensitive to potential damage to the economy, Tuesday cut the duration of the strike to one day from three. But Nicholas Mudzengerere, acting secretary-general of the ZCTU, said that if the government did not respond, a longer stoppage would be called.
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) - Workers shut down factories, stores and white-owned farms Wednesday with a strike to protest a breakdown of order in Zimbabwe, where months of political violence have left dozens dead and the economy in shambles.
In the main shopping district in Harare, the capital, only fast food shops remained open. Banks and stores were shuttered, and usually bustling parking lots and street markets were virtually deserted.
``Everyone around us is out, so we're closing too,'' said Ian Sibanda, a furniture store manager. ``Let's hope the government sees people are serious about this.''
Business also closed in other cities. The Commercial Farmers Union, which represents many of the country's white farmers, said most of its members stopped production across the country and were only carrying out milking and other essential tasks.
Small squads of paramilitary riot police were posted at strategic locations in Harare. But fewer were deployed than during violent strikes in the past, and most were carrying only batons instead of tear gas and stun guns. There were no immediate reports of violence.
The countrywide work stoppage was called by the main labor federation and backed by the white farmers and the country's main opposition movement. Their goal: to press the government to end six months of political violence that has claimed 31 lives, mostly opposition supporters and white farmers.
Unrest began in February, when government-backed squatters started occupying more than 1,600 white farms, trapping some white farmers in their homes and attacking others.
President Robert Mugabe called the occupations a legitimate protest against unfair ownership of land in this nation where the tiny white minority owns about a third of the productive land. But opposition leaders said he was just trying to boost his support among landless blacks in advance of parliamentary elections June 24-25.
On Monday, Mugabe's government confirmed plans to take more than half of all the white-owned farming land in the country without paying for it and redistribute it to 500,000 poor black families. White farmers expressed shock at the plan, though no timetable was given and it was not immediately clear whether the government has the resources to carry out the resettlement.
On Wednesday, Mugabe was scheduled to hold talks in Harare with President Thabo Mbeki of neighboring South Africa. Although Mugabe's office described the meeting as routine, Mbeki was being accompanied by top economic officials who have voiced concern over the effects of instability in Zimbabwe on South Africa and its neighbors.
The labor federation said farm disruptions have hurt the agriculture-based economy, leading to job losses in commerce and industry. An independent employers organization reported last month 60,000 jobs were lost in the first six months of this year.
Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, with inflation reaching a record 70 percent this year and unemployment soaring to 50 percent along with a sharp decline in health, education and social services. The government devalued the Zimbabwe currency by 24 percent Tuesday in what it called a bid to stabilize the crumbling economy.