June 11, 2008

Labour Unions urge intervention

Labour unions from southern Africa have called on the regional organisation SADC to send peace-keepers to Zimbabwe to ensure presidential elections take place democratically. A statement from the main worker bodies in eight countries also called on the 15 SADC governments to mount "vigilant monitoring" of the June 27 run-off vote and to make sure United Nations and other observers could also be on the spot. "The workers in the region cannot allow the election and the expression of the people of Zimbabwe through the ballot box to be stolen," said the statement, read at a news conference by Swaziland's labour federation leader Jan Sithole.

It said President Robert Mugabe's government was continuing to "aggressively violate" U.N. labour pacts with "malicious police violence, brutality, arrests and detentions of trade union leaders, activists and human rights defenders."

The president and secretary-general of the Zimbabwe trade union organisation were recently imprisoned for 10 days and then released under bail terms that prevented them from carrying out their work or travelling, the statement added.

The stance of the worker delegates, in Geneva for the annual Conference of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), contrasted sharply with that of political leaders of SADC, the Southern African Development Community. These have preferred to avoid openly criticising Mugabe and work through the "quiet diplomacy" championed by South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki. Lesotho's Prime Minister Pakalitha Mososili told another news conference the sovereignty of Zimbabwe must be respected. Mososili said he understood there was "no way" that the run- off poll between Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai could be rigged. His argument was rejected at the workers' briefing by Alina Rantsolase of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, COSATU. "The first round was already rigged," she declared.

Sithole, who said the group was also speaking on behalf of the Zimbabwe union leaders, told reporters its stance was backed at the ILO by worker and employer bodies from all continents. The only objection came from Cuba, which defended Mugabe -- while official Zimbabwe government delegates sat in the gallery to avoid having to speak. "It is very sad to see Cuba behaving in this way," said another African worker representative at the news conference. "They supported South Africans' struggle against apartheid, but now they are backing Mugabe's repressive regime."

The statement -- signed by union bodies from Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland, Malawi, Angola, Lesotho and Mozambique -- blamed SADC's "passive strategy" on human rights issues for the situation in Zimbabwe. (Rts)

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