Zimbabwe: general strike in response to price hikes

by CWI reporters

A three day general strike in Zimbabwe was set in motion on 14 January in response to the deteriorating economic situation in the country. Called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and local activists the strike was in protest against the 150 per cent fuel price hike announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa on 12 January.

The national shut-down was overwhelmingly implemented by the workers, unemployed and self-employed – the vast majority of Zimbabweans. In the capital, Harare, and second largest city Bulawayo, people, including large numbers of youth, took to the streets demonstrating. Elsewhere people stayed home as a way of expressing their grievances.

The police met the demonstrations with live bullets and tear gas. Two days into the general strike, five people have reportedly been shot dead by the police, and several others wounded. A police station in Harare was torched as demonstrators reacted against the heavy-handed repression. Some demonstrators set up barricades blocking the roads into the cities. Media also reports some looting. The opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) reports that its head office was looted and set alight. Also cars of the ruling ZANU-PF were targeted.

Now priced at US$3.31 per litre (diesel to US$3.11), fuel in Zimbabwe is now the most expensive in the world in a country where only 11% of the 5.4m economically active population are employed in the formal sector, and 72% live below the World Bank poverty line of US$1.90 per day. The working class and poor in Zimbabwe had already been hard hit by accelerating price hikes, shortage of hard cash, fuel and basic goods including medicine under the new finance minister’s mockingly titled “Austerity for Prosperity” budget under which soldiers’ pensionable age was raised to 70 from 65 years of age.

According to the announcement by the government, big businesses will be compensated for the increase through tax rebates. This on its own is an attack on the workers, the poor, the unemployed and self-employed – the bosses’ government is trying to force the workers and poor to pay for the economic crisis. Mnangagwa has also announced wholesale privatisation of publicly own corporations since he took power.

The national shut-down comes on the heels of the doctors` strike, which was just called-off after over a month of struggle for, amongst others, outstanding wages and a massive increase in health care spending. A teachers strike is also planned for later this month. A group of teachers recently marched from Bulawayo to Harare (430 kilometres!) to present their grievances, including among other things poor salaries amid increased prices in basic goods, to the government. Public sector workers also served a strike notice on the Public Service Commission on 8 January after negotiations between the government and workers failed.

In other words, the general strike takes place as part of a ferment across workplaces and communities. Not even six months after he was elected, president Mnangagwa (who in November 2018 was involved in the coup that unseated his old party comrade Robert Mugabe after 37 years in power) may be facing a brewing rebellion. The elections were in reality called to legitimise the regime Mnangagwa’s military installed following the thinly disguised coup that ousted Mugabe.

As the Saturday Big Read (SBR) (16/01/2019) points out: “On August 1 2018, the same military was deployed into the streets of Harare. The operation left six dead and 35 others wounded. Shot down in cold blood. A commission of inquiry was set up. It performed a shoddy white-washing job. No-one has been held accountable. Not even a single word of apology.”

Just six months later, the SBR reports that “The State has now resorted to extraordinary measures, without even declaring a State of Emergency. They include the following:

  • military deployment
  • detention of civilians
  • shootings, beatings, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture. People have been killed in cold blood
  • door-to-door search & seizure of individuals and abductions
  • shutdown of the Internet and social media to prevent free flow of information. There is an information blackout
  • Propaganda, blaming the opposition and civil society groups for what are plain opposition protests”

Despite pointing to serious evidence of rigging before the elections – including the refusal by the Independent Elections Commissions to release the voters roll for inspection by the opposition critical for their credibility – the MDC participated in what were in effect fraudulent elections, overwhelmed by its ambition for office.

Although the MDC has expressed solidarity with the strike, its pre-occupation has been to deny responsibility for them. Clearly taken by surprise by these developments, instead of placing itself at the head of these massive protests, it is using them instead to make a call for regional intervention and for Mnangagwa to return from his overseas trip for a ‘national dialogue’.

The CWI gives full support to the strike and calls on workers, youth and community activists to use the strike to build organising committees in workplaces, schools, townships and villages to discuss the programme of action and the alternative to the increasingly nightmarish situation. The ZCTU rank-and-file must campaign for the unions to break any lingering ties with the MDC and campaign for the creation of a workers party.

The only way out of the Zimbabwe crisis, is to struggle for a socialist Zimbabwe, a socialist Africa and a socialist world, where the resources of society are taken into genuine public ownership, managed and controlled democratically by workers and communities, and production is planned for the needs of all, not the profits of big business, the multinationals and the politically connected elite.

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