April 6, 2007

After successful strike, only seven MDC activists granted bail

President Robert Mugabe’s government has given private firms closed during a national strike 24 hours to explain why they did not open for business or face unspecified punishment. Industry Minister Obert Mpofu said his department was compiling a list of what he said were "mostly white-owned companies that chose to side with organisers of the stayaway" by shutting down during the job boycott called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions to protest worsening economic hardships in the country. Mpofu said: "Indeed we are still receiving reports of the companies that chose to side with the organisers of the stay away and we are going to deal with them accordingly. In fact, we have given them 24-hour directives to submit their reasons for failing to open for business. To suggest that these mostly white owned companies have the welfare of the workers at heart would be dishonest as they are the same people who hike prices wily nilly. We have taken enough of this misbehaviour and this is the last time they will do such a thing."
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Unions (ZCTU) called the strike to pressure President Robert Mugabe’s government to act to end an economic crisis gripping the country for the past eight years and which has seen inflation soaring to nearly 2.000 percent, rising poverty, unemployment and severe shortages of food. But the job boycott largely flopped as workers turned up for work and businesses opened although analysts attributed this to fear of a government backlash, a few weeks after police brutally assaulted opposition leaders for trying to organise anti-President Robert Mugabe protests.
State secret service agents reportedly also patrolled city shopping malls and industrial sites threatening factory managers and shop owners their licences would be withdrawn if they allowed their workers to take part in the strike. But a few shops and factories still closed or were operating at well below capacity either because they feared if they opened their property could be destroyed by anti-government protesters or simply because their workers did not report for duty. Any attempt by Mugabe’s government to withdraw licences from companies to punish them for not opening during the strike period could be the last nail in the coffin of Zimbabwe’s industrial sector already on its knees weighed down by shortages of raw materials, machine parts, fuel, electricity and hard cash. Forcing companies to close would also see thousands of workers thrown into the streets in a country where unemployment is at 80 percent.
In the meantime, Zimbabwe’s High Court has freed on bail seven opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party activists accused of petrol bombing police stations and a public train. However, it denied bail to a second batch of activists of which the police say they were the brains behind the bombings. Justice Joseph Musakwa granted bail of $100 000 each to the seven activists but did not free nine other MDC members because after the state it was not yet ready to oppose the granting of bail to the opposition activists. Those accused of masterminding the bombing campaign and denied bail include Ian Makone, a former executive of insurance giant First Mutual Limited but now a member of the MDC national executive, journalist Luke Tamborinyoka who now works for the opposition party and legislator Paul Madzore. MDC lawyer Alec Muchadehama accused state prosecutors of behaving in a "deplorable" manner when they refused to have the bail application of the opposition activists heard claiming they were not ready although they had been fully notified the matter would be argued in court.
The state charges Makone and his co-accused led the MDC’s military wing called the Democratic Resistance Committee which was responsible for training saboteurs to petrol bomb ruling Zanu PF party offices and police stations. Makone and his colleagues are denying the charges while the MDC has vehemently denied it or its members were behind the bombing incidents, which it says were orchestrated by government agents in a bid to justify a crackdown on the resurgent party that has seen dozens of its activist arrested and tortured by the police. (ZimOnline, South Africa)

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