A government crackdown on citizens who last week protested a 150 percent fuel price hike escalated Monday with the arrest of Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) Secretary General Japhet Moyo, charged with subversion for “mobilizing the nation to participate in anti-fuel hike protests.” Violent clashes blamed by human rights organizations on the army and police left 12 dead and 320 injured.
Prior to Moyo’s arrest, ZCTU President Peter Mutasa was forced into hiding by a police break-in at his home during which his brother was reportedly assaulted. Mutasa, who was away from his house during the break-in, remains in hiding this week, forcing ZCTU staff to avoid their offices for fear of police seeking his whereabouts, according to union members who spoke with the Solidarity Center.
“We call upon the government to respect labor rights and stop all forms of intimidation and harassment against trade unionists,” said ZCTU today in a press release.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission found that torture of protesters by government forces—consisting mostly of “indiscriminate and severe beatings”—has been widespread. The situation remains tense this week, with soldiers patrolling the streets in most cities, towns and high-density residential areas.
ZCTU has faced other threats from authorities in recent months as Zimbabwe’s economy flounders and inflation and price hikes further complicate Zimbabwean workers’ lives. Mutasa and Moyo—along with 33 other trade unionists—were arrested and later released in October last year during an attempt to stop a national workers’ protest against a financial tax increase and rising prices. Some trade unionists were beaten, ZCTU Harare offices were cordoned off by some 150 police and ZCTU leaders not already in jail were forced into hiding.
The majority of Zimbabwean workers eke out a living in the informal economy, struggling to survive on less than $1 a day. Those with formal jobs often do not fare well either. A 2016 study by the Solidarity Center found that 80,000 workers in formal jobs did not receive wages or benefits on time, if at all. In many cases, they made only enough to get to work.
Update: On January 25, 2019, ZCTU President Peter Mutasa presented himself for arrest in the company of his lawyer Alec Muchadehama.