October 29, 2004

Cosatu delegation thrown out of the country

A fact-finding mission by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) to Zimbabwe, which had ended by its removal from the country, summed up that things were not well in Zimbabwe, Cosatu deputy secretary General Bheki Ntshalintshali has concluded. According to him, the mission was not there long enough and did not speak to enough people to determine whether free and fair elections are possible next year. However, as he stated, if they were held tomorrow, it would be a very difficult issue on which to comment.

He and his 12 colleagues said that the Zimbabwean government was not respecting the rule of law, human rights or Zimbabwe's international obligations. Ntshalintshali underlined his argument by saying that, "the police invasion of the offices of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the arrest of the Cosatu mission and their ill treatment at the hands of the police all proved beyond doubt that the government had no respect for human rights and the freedom of trade unions to function freely within the law."

Ntshalintshali furthermore condemned the actions of the Zimbabwe government, "which revealed its utter contempt not only for the principles of respect for human rights and civil liberties, but for the rule of law, when it brushed aside an order of the Harare High Court interdicting them from deporting the members of the Cosatu mission". He also criticised the Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa for saying that Zimbabwe was an independent, sovereign state that had an inalienable right to determine and to apply its immigration legislation as it might deem appropriate and in its own interest. Ntshalintshali pointed out that Zimbabwe was a signatory to several international conventions that guarantee basic human rights, including freedom of movement, assembly and speech. "The government's conduct this week has attacked all these rights. No democratic government has the right to deny entry and free movement to visitors who, like the Cosatu mission, do not contravene any immigration laws and who obey the laws of the land," he said. As a result, Cosatu has threatened to blockade the Beit Bridge border post between South Africa and Zimbabwe, a vital trade artery for the landlocked neighbour.

The South African government said it regretted the "outcome" of the Congress of South African Trade Union's visit to Zimbabwe but that the country had been within its rights to deport them, the Department of Foreign Affairs said in Pretoria. "We will consult with the Zimbabwean authorities and Cosatu to avoid a reoccurrence," said spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa, following a government debate on the subject in Parliament. He said, however, that the government would continue to engage with the ruling Zanu-PF party and the opposition Moverment for Democratic Change to find a solution to the widening rift ahead of next year's general elections. "Our strategic objective is the need to get the political parties to sit down and address the economic and political challenges in Zimbabwe," said Mamoepa.

As the Zimbabwean newspaper "The Herald" has commented on the incident, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) showed extreme contempt for the people of Zimbabwe, their government, their laws and national sovereignty by bulldozing themselves into Zimbabwe despite clear Government objections to this visit. It was clearly an act of aggression against this country, which should be condemned, in the strongest terms. This act of provocation by Cosatu was clearly designed at not only ruffling the feathers in Zimbabwe ahead of next year's parliamentary elections in the hope of discrediting the country but to provoke a confrontation between Zimbabwe and South Africa. However, as the newspaper indicated, the bond between the South African and Zimbabwean governments was too strong to be shaken by the actions of agent provocateurs whose agenda and views on Zimbabwe are similar to the country's archenemies.

Meanwhile, SA Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota called Zimbabwe's expulsion of the Cosatu delegation "embarrassing" to the African National Congress – a statement which may add to however little South African pressure on Mugabe. (The Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg / The Herald, Harare)

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