A delegation of South African trade unionists was ordered deported from Zimbabwe a day after it arrived. South African union leaders denounced the expulsion and threatened to blockade borders if any member of its delegation is arrested or harmed.
The next flight to South Africa is on Wednesday so the delegation will have to spend the night in Harare. The 13-member delegation was told that the Zimbabwe cabinet had decided it has to leave the country.
The trade unionists' mission was in the country at the invitation of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. Its purpose, the group said, was to get what it called an accurate picture of the situation in the country and make a contribution to resolving some of the problems facing Zimbabwe, particularly its trade unions.
Even before the delegates left South Africa, Harare, in a letter sent to the Congress of South African Trade Unions last Thursday, said the mission was not acceptable.
The letter said the trip was predicated in the political domain, pointing to the delegates scheduled meetings with Zimbabwe's civic and religious organizations critical of President Robert Mugabe's government. Despite the warnings, the South African trade union delegation flew to Harare on Monday.
The deportation order came before the delegates held even a single meeting. Violet Seboni, the leader of the COSATU delegation, described the expulsion as a victory.
"We are not disappointed, we expected this; we are not angry we expected this; but at least the whole world will now know the real Zimbabwe because people have been told one side about Zimbabwe, not the truth about Zimbabwe," she said. "Now the plight of ordinary people of Zimbabwe will be known worldwide."
But in a press release issued in Johannesburg Tuesday, COSATU denounced the expulsion as a massive attack on the basic human right of trade unionists to travel to meet their fellow workers. The Congress said its mission to Zimbabwe was, in its words, totally peaceful and orderly.
Responding to reports that Zimbabwe police were arriving in force at the Harare airport, COSATU issued a blunt warning: If any members of the mission are arrested, attacked or injured, it said, the federation will organize a blockade of the South Africa-Zimbabwe border within 48 hours.
Zimbabwe is in the midst of its worst economic and political crisis since independence in 1980. COSATU is an alliance partner of the ruling African National Congress in South Africa.