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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 12:50 GMT
Workers ignore Zimbabwe strike
Guards outside a closed factory in Harare
Some workers pledged to stay home on Thursday

Most shops and businesses in Harare have opened again, despite a call for workers to stay at home by the main trade unions.

The three-day strike has been endorsed by the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).


We will not call off the strike action

Trade union leader Wellington Chibebe
But people in much of the capital have been going to their jobs as normal, although there appeared to be fewer staff in some shops.

In the industrial areas, it was business as usual on Wednesday and Thursday apart from the talk about the strike, with some workers saying they would stay at home later in the week.

One reason why the strike action - supposed to have run from Wednesday to Friday - has been patchy is bad timing by the trade unions.

You just do not call for a stay-away when people are expecting their salaries.

Opposition divided

Although there appears to be widespread support for the strike action, there are also concerns about whether it will be effective.

Zimbabweans queue for food in Harare
Many Zimbabweans fear for their jobs amid high unemployment
City workers may have been united in voting massively for the opposition in this month's presidential elections, but they seem divided over the industrial action.

With high unemployment even among the qualified, some workers fear losing their jobs.

Wellington Chibebe, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), said at one point on Wednesday that three out of every five Harare workers were not at their jobs, while there was a stay-away rate of 55% in towns outside the capital.

''In the morning it was around 60% in Harare but as time went on, many shops opened, people were called from home although some stayed at home," Mr Chibebe said.

"But right now, most shops are open.

''There is still the element of fear among workers as a result of the intimidation they have been subjected to."

Police presence

Mr Chibebe also blamed the state-controlled radio and TV stations - the only ones allowed in the country - for sending confusing messages about whether the strike was on or not.

''We will not call off the strike action,'' he stressed.

''But we are assessing the situation.''

The unions called the strike in protest at what they say was the harassment of pro-opposition workers since the recent disputed presidential election, which saw President Robert Mugabe returned for a fifth term of office.

Police have warned the ZCTU that the protest is illegal and that officers have been mobilised across the country to deal with it.

There has been a heavy police presence in the streets of Harare.


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20 Mar 02 | Africa
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