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Zimbabwe Turns Away South African Labor Group

Members of a delegation from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) say they were denied entry to Zimbabwe as they arrived in the capital, Harare, for a fact-finding mission early today. The delegation members told reporters they were met at the airport by Zimbabwean officials who turned them back.

News reports say Zimbabwe’s Minister of Labor, Public Service, and Social Welfare, Paul Mangwana, had told the delegation it needed to apply for a permit through the South African labor ministry. The press also says South Africa’s own labor minister, Membathisia Mdladlana, had urged COSATU not to make the trip because it may harm relations between the two countries. But COSATU spokesman Paul Notyhawa says Mr. Mdladlana told them that the press quotes had been misconstrued. Mr. Notyhawa also said the minister supported the COSATU trip, as long as delegation members had the necessary papers, including visas. The labor union spokesman says South African officials never told the group it needed a permit. He told English to Africa reporter William Eagle that according to rules governing the Southern African Development Community, there are no special requirements for a labor group such as COSATU to enter any member country to meet with its counterparts.

Paul Notyhawa says COSATU will indeed meet with its sister organization, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, tomorrow (Thursday) near Beitbridge, along the two countries’ common border. He says they’ll discuss the incident as well as the status of working people in Zimbabwe, and work on a strategy to pressure the government of President Robert Mugabe to change what the international community regards as laws that repress political parties and the press. General elections are scheduled next month in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's government expelled a similar delegation last October and had warned the COSATU members that they would be deported or jailed.