September 21, 2007

Students to launch national class boycott / Unions strike receives mixed responses

The Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) is mobilizing its membership for a national class boycott after authorities raised tuition fees for the second year running. From paying Z$60 000 per semester, students will now have to fork out Z$10 million. Students were already failing to pay the fees which increased in 2006 and the fee structure being imposed on them in 2007 is set to make things worse. The boycott by the students will be accompanied by demonstrations on campus, according to union leaders. Students are grappling with a host of problems from accommodation, inadequate funding, poor food standards in the canteens and state sponsored harassment, including intimidation and torture for those perceived to be active in organising protests.
ZINASU Secretary General Beloved Chiweshe said that government was practising double standards in proclaiming it was slashing prices of basic commodities and yet was raising tuition fees for students. According to him students felt that a class boycott at that moment was the least 'taxing' option students could exercise, given the high levels of repression. Chiweshe added that the union wanted to ensure the world knew things were not okay in Zimbabwe, contrary to what Mugabe and his government were trying to portray. Earlier on, state agents had assaulted University of Zimbabwe student union President Lovemore Chinoputsa and his Secretary General, Fortune Chamba, before arresting them during a demonstration on campus. Students were protesting a decision not to reopen halls of residence, shut down last semester. Over 4.000 students have been affected and they are currently struggling to find accommodation in the capital.
The decision to have a class boycott also comes at the same time as a stay away called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions has received a lukewarm response from workers in a country with over 80 percent unemployment and high levels of intimidation. The two-day work boycott called by the union showed little response after a slow start with shops and services in the capital operating as normal. Agnes Chatora, a secretary with a Harare-based consultancy firm said she was not prepared to risk losing her job by joining the strike.
According to reports shops and businesses were open in Harare and witnesses said the strike had failed to take off in other major centres around the country. With almost a quarter of people in jobs earning less than a dollar a day, many cannot afford to stay away. "Things are hard enough already and I cannot afford to stay at home and gamble with my job or my security," said a worker at a textile company.
Furthermore, a statement published in the state-run Herald newspaper, claiming to be from ZCTU affiliates, called on workers to ignore the strike call. Wellington Chibebe, the ZCTU secretary general, described the response to the boycott as "mixed". "We are touring the industrial areas right now and we have noticed that some factories are opened, but what we have also noticed is that some workers did not turn up for work," he said. "There has been a lot of intimidation and harassment of our members. Despite this we will go ahead with our scheduled strike. The ZCTU remains committed to serving the interests of workers who are heavily taxed and poorly paid." Chibebe stressed. (SWRadio, London / The Zimbabwean / sapa)

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