JOHANNESBURG — Zimbabwean riot police officers brandishing batons charged into a group of 100 doctors and nurses on Wednesday in Harare, the capital, breaking up a demonstration for better pay and working conditions in a nation suffering from both an epidemic of cholera and an economy in free fall.
The health workers, many dressed in uniform, fled as the police approached. Nearby, teachers and other union members tried to join the protest but were clubbed by yet more police officers, and at least 15 were arrested.
Earlier in the day, armed men identifying themselves as the police officers took a human rights activist, Jestina Mukoko, from her home in what Amnesty International called “part of an established pattern of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders.” Ms. Mukoko, whose whereabouts are unknown, is director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, an organization that has been documenting rights abuses.
The cholera epidemic and the new crackdown on dissent come in a country already mired in desperation. The government is paralyzed by a stalemated power-sharing deal, and the official inflation rate is 231 million percent. Grocery shelves are largely barren. Most public hospitals and schools are closed.
Since August, cholera deaths have risen to 565, according to the United Nations. More than 12,500 people are infected, and to make matters worse, in Harare water itself has become scarce as a dysfunctional government lacks the chemicals to purify the drinking supply. Many businesses have shut because of the sanitation problems.
To add to the chaos, soldiers, angered at the meagerness of their deflated pay, on Monday rampaged through central Harare, breaking windows, looting stores and robbing the money changers who deal in foreign currency. Armed police officers had to disperse the marauding troops with tear gas.
The demonstrations on Wednesday brought yet another macabre scene of violence. The police “assaulted several women, some of them pregnant,” said Lovemore Matombo, president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
The protesters, upset about restrictions that kept them from reclaiming their increasingly worthless cash, had been marching with placards. One read, “We want all our money!” Another said, “People are dying of preventable disease!”
Many onlookers were standing in long lines at banks, and they watched with a contradictory set of anxieties, afraid of being shot but reluctant to risk losing their place.
“I don’t want to die now,” said one observer, Mary Muzanenhamo, a mother of two boys. “I have kids to look after. I just hope this crisis will soon be over and we can start on a new chapter.”
Among the protesters who were arrested were Wellington Chibebe, secretary general of the Congress of Trade Unions, and Raymond Majongwe, secretary general of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, Mr. Matombo said. All those arrested were released.
More than 50 others were arrested in demonstrations throughout the country, according to a statement by the Congress of Trade Unions, and several of those protesters remained jailed.
Earlier, some union members had presented a petition to Gideon Gono, the powerful governor of the nation’s Reserve Bank. The wages of many salaried workers are paid directly into bank accounts, and Mr. Gono had promised to raise the amount people can withdraw from 500,000 Zimbabwean dollars each day, which is now a paltry 20 cents, to 100 million Zimbabwean dollars, or about $40, each week.
The health care workers had their own particular complaints. “We are forced to work without basic health institutional needs like drugs, adequate water and sanitation, safe clothing gear, medical equipment and support services,” read a protest letter from the Zimbabwe Doctors’ Association.
Conditions in hospitals and clinics have been steadily deteriorating. Basic medicines are absent. There is no thread for suturing or needles for injections. The health system was already in collapse when the cholera epidemic struck.
This week, Unicef announced an emergency response to the worsening conditions. So did the European Commission and the International Red Cross.
“Cholera is a disease of destitution that used to be almost unknown in Zimbabwe,” Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, told The Associated Press.
He was referring to a time when Zimbabwe was a breadbasket of the region. But during the past decade this nation has plunged into ruin, one reason being the confiscation of white-owned farms by the government of Robert Mugabe.
In elections last March, the 84-year-old Mr. Mugabe, who has headed the country for nearly 30 years, was outpolled by opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai. Forces loyal to the president then unleashed a campaign of violence before a runoff vote set for June. The brutality caused Mr. Tsvangirai to withdraw from the second election.
Regional leaders finally coaxed the two sides into a power-sharing deal with Mr. Mugabe’s remaining as president and Mr. Tsvangirai’s becoming prime minister. But though the agreement was hailed as a breakthrough, vital details have never been ironed out and the arrangement has been stymied by disputes over who will control key government ministries.
A journalist in Harare, Zimbabwe, contributed reporting.
Swoop on Zim protesters
Moses Mudzwiti Published:Dec 04, 2008
Mugabe's henchmen arrest doctors, nurses, journalists
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe's return to Zimbabwe yesterday was marked by a huge
crackdown on pro-democracy activists who had planned marches in the capital,
Secret police, working with informers, identified "ringleaders" in the city
centre and bundled them into unmarked cars. At least 10 people are known to
have been abducted in the crackdown.
Raymond Majongwe, secretary-general of the Progressive Teachers' Union of
Zimbabwe, was detained with six others, all believed to be members of the
opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
Plainclothes policemen pounced on SABC journalist John Nyashanu and two
unidentified people in the city centre. Nyashanu previously worked for
state-owned ZBC TV. His fate remains unclear.
Activist Jestina Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was picked
up in Norton, a small town 40km south of Harare.
Health workers, including doctors and nurses, were arrested after they tried
to protest against the government's failure to deal with the cholera
outbreak, which has killed more than 400 people in the past four weeks.
The crackdown, which started soon after Mugabe arrived back from the UN
summit in Qatar, prevented pro-democracy activists from marching into the
On Tuesday night, activists had distributed flyers in downtown Harare
inviting ordinary Zimbabweans to take a stand against the worsening economic
and humanitarian crisis.
The clampdown came a day after Security Minister Sydney Sekeramayi issued a
statement warning Zimbabweans to not break the law.
He claimed the rebellion by more than 100 soldiers had been contained.
Soldiers who had attacked "innocent citizens" and vandalised property would
be dealt with, he said.
Calling the soldiers' actions "deplorable", Sekeramayi said loyal forces
were on top of the situation.
It was the first time Mugabe's government had commented on the soldiers'
rampage, which started a week ago.
For five days running, hundreds of soldiers attacked foreign- currency
dealers in various locations in Harare. This culminated in a looting spree
"It won't happen again," declared Sekeramayi.
However, police sources said army chiefs had managed to put down the
rebellion only by promising each soldier a Z50-million cash payment.
"The soldiers were bused to Manyame air base, where they were given the
cash," said a reliable police source.
By late yesterday many activists had gone underground and were not available
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is still out of the country.
The movement's secretary general, Tendai Biti, is expected in court today to
face a treason charge.
Abduction in Zimbabwe Raises Fear of New Crackdown
The abduction today of Jestina Mukoko, one of Zimbabwe's most prominent
human rights activists, appears to signal that Robert Mugabe's regime has
renewed its campaign of violence against the country's civil society.
Freedom House calls for the immediate release of Mukoko and all other
prisoners of conscience and urges regional powers to break the political
deadlock that has sent Zimbabwe spiraling.
"Jestina Mukoko's kidnapping is part of a disturbing new escalation in
abductions and other human rights abuses in Zimbabwe," said Thomas O. Melia,
Freedom House deputy executive director. "This crackdown is what Mugabe and
his cronies do when faced with real problems like a mounting death toll from
cholera and a worthless currency."
Gunmen kidnapped Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project which
monitors human rights abuses, early today from her home. Witnesses believe
the armed men were plain clothed security agents with Zimbabwe's Central
The Zimbabwe Peace Project recently warned about a sharp increase
harassment and intimidation, mainly targeting critics of the Mugabe
government. Today in Harare, protesting health workers and unionists were
arrested and beaten by riot police.
Earlier this year, Mukoko's organization played a leading role in
documenting election-related violence that claimed the lives of more than
100 people, mainly opposition supporters. Elections in March resulted in the
opposition Movement for Democratic Change winning a majority in parliament
and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai winning a plurality in the presidential
contest against Mugabe. When state-directed violence undermined the
scheduled presidential runoff election in June, Tsvangirai withdrew and a
mediation effort was undertaken by Southern African Development Community
(SADC), led by South Africa. However, Mugabe's refusal to allow MDC leaders
to assume control of key ministries has stalled power-sharing talks and
prevented the government from addressing the country's humanitarian crisis.
"The Southern African Development Community, led by South Africa, is
supposed to be brokering a political solution in Zimbabwe. Instead, SADC
stands idly by watching Zimbabwe implode," said Melia. "The world is waiting
for African governments to do what they have long said they would prefer-to
find 'African solutions to African problems.' It is entirely within the
capacity of South Africa and SADC to bring meaningful pressure to bear on
Mugabe and his cronies and they have declined to do so for reasons they do
not make clear."
Zimbabwe is ranked Not Free in the 2008 edition of Freedom in the World,
Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and in the
2008 version of Freedom of the Press.
Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the
expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and
civil liberties in Zimbabwe since 1972.
HARARE, December 3 2008 - At least 20 people, including Zimbabwe
Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) leaders, have been arrested for taking part
in an illegal strike on Wednesday.
The organisation marched in protest of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe
(RBZ)'s unpopular cash withdrawal limits.
Police arrested and detained ZCTU secretary general Wellington
Chibhebhe, together with several leaders of ZCTU's affiliate organisations.
Scores of ordinary Zimbabweans were injured when anti-riot police
violently dispersed a gathering, which was being addressed by ZCTU president
Lovemore Matombo in the city centre.
Despite the harassment, the ZCTU leaders managed to deliver their
petition to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor, Gideon Gono.
Harare lawyer Alec Muchadehama, who is representing the group,
confirmed Chibhebhe was arrested by the police together with other ZCTU
officials, who include Gideon Shoko, James Gumbi and Ben Madzimure, editor
of The Worker.
South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) bureau chief, John
Nyashanu, and Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary
general, Raymond Majongwe, are among those arrested.
Muchadehama said the arrested are yet to be charged.
Baton wielding police officers were planted virtually along every
street in Harare's city centre to stave off further protests.
ZCTU wants daily cash withdrawal limits, which it says are both
illegal and constantly prejudice hardworking Zimbabweans who endure endless
trips to banking halls everyday to withdraw as little as $500 000, to be
Most Zimbabweans salaries remain trapped in their bank accounts while
they are forced to withdraw limited amounts which are not even enough to
cover a single trip into the city centre from any of the city's high density
The Central Bank this week however, reviewed daily cash withdrawal
limits to a maximum of $100 million per week while corporates will now
withdraw a maximum of $150 million.
The new cash limits coincide with the unveiling of new notes, namely
the $10 million, $50 million and $100 million.
The ZCTU dismissed the withdrawal limit increase, which it says does
not address the root causes of recurrent cash shortages.
SW Radio Africa, 4 December
22 injured as NCA demonstrators clash with police
By Alex Bell
At least 22 people were seriously injured after demonstrators clashed
with police on the streets of Harare on Thursday afternoon - during a
peaceful demonstration organised by the National Constitutional Assembly
(NCA). The NCA has called on the people of Zimbabwe to protest regularly
and consistently, every week ,until a resolution to the political crisis
engulfing Zimbabwe is found and implemented. The protests call for a
transitional authority, not a government, to immediately address the
desperate humanitarian crisis and as well as facilitate the writing of a
people-driven democratic constitution. But the past two mass actions
have been marred by a violent crackdown on the demonstrators, who have
faced arrest and beatings at the hands of police. A female NCA member
suffered a miscarriage after being severely assaulted by police when she
and more than 20 others were arrested in the first round of
demonstrations last month. Last week several people were injured and
another two demonstrators were arrested when the NCA again took to the
NCA spokesman Madock Chivasa explained on Thursday evening that more than 1000 people gathered in Nelson Mandela Avenue in Harare in the afternoon. He described the action as very successful because of the large number of protesters that joined the mass action, but he explained that shortly after the march began, police again descended on them. "The police fired tear gas into the protesters and started beating people," Chivasa explained. "It led to running battles with the police and it ended in chaos." Chivasa said that at least 22 people were seriously injured in the clash with police, and by Thursday evening the group was still trying to establish how many people had been arrested. "Currently our lawyers are trying to track down who has been arrested," Chivasa said. "The police were picking up people randomly off the streets so we don't know how many people have been taken."