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Saturday, November 21, 1998 Published at 20:02 GMT

World: Africa

Zimbabwe unions step up demands

Whites own one-third of Zimbabwe's farmland

Zimbabwe's main trade union organisation, the ZCTU, has made fresh demands of the government - increasing speculation that it may form a political party to challenge President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF.

One-day general strikes called by the ZCTU have shut the country down on two, successive Wednesdays but the authorities have not met any union demands.

At first these were for lower prices and higher wages but they have been widened to call for:

  • a reduction in the money spent on military intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • a rescheduling of the national debt.
  • freedom of information.
  • a new constitution to be ready for 1999.

ZCTU Secretary General Morgan Tsvangirai has refused to commit the union to further strikes.

[ image: President Robert Mugabe could face a challenge for hiis office]
President Robert Mugabe could face a challenge for hiis office
"We are not going to give a categorical position on the question of strikes," he said. "We are going to use our organs, our structures to map out the next position."

The BBC's Harare Correspondent, Joseph Winter, says the issues raised by the unions are generally seen as belonging to the political arena and this will heighten speculation that Morgan Tsvangirai, is preparing to challenge Robert Mugabe's position as president.

National elections are not due for more than a year but with the country experiencing crisis on a number of fronts, Mr Mugabe's critics are urging Mr Tsvangirai to form an opposition party. They say he could be the man to mount a serious challenge to the ruling formation, Zanu PF, which does not currently have a credible challenger.

The government has come under criticism from several quarters recently.

Price rises have made life very tough in urban areas and these were the rallying calls for the recent wave of strikes and rural areas have been in uproar because of the government's policy of land reform.

Soaring prices

[ image: Riots broke out following price rises in January]
Riots broke out following price rises in January
Zimbabwe has seen the cost of basic foodstuffs rise by 20% and fuel by more than 65%, causing public transport fares to rise by up to 40%.

While the government says a sharp drop in the value of the Zimbabwean dollar prompted price rises, most analysts blame mismanagement by Zimbabwe's authorities.

Over the last few weeks the trade unions have called two, one-day strikes, paralysing the capital, Harare. The first strike was marred by violence, which left at least one person dead, and several others injured.

Squatting farmers

[ image: Whites own one-third of Zimbabwe's farmland]
Whites own one-third of Zimbabwe's farmland
Meanwhile, rural areas are also experiencing troubles.

White farmers near Harare say their farms have been besieged by people waving machetes and demanding the redistribution of land to black Zimbabweans.

Earlier this week the government issued letters to nearly 850 white-owned farms informing them that the government had acquired their land as part of a policy of redistribution to black peasant families.

Many farmers feared that they could be ordered to leave their land within weeks but the Deputy Agriculture Minister, Olivia Muchena, later tried to allay their worst fears, saying an appeals process would be observed and that farmers should continue to plant crops.

Some 4,000 white farmers own around 30% of the land.

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