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Zimbabwe Labor Unions Under Increasing Pressure

Zimbabwe's trade unions say they are under increased threat following the appointment of Zimbabwe's former intelligence chief as the new minister of labor. On Thursday, police arrived at the home of a leading union member saying they wanted to search her house for what they said was "subversive material."

Recent meetings of the general council of The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, ZCTU, have been disrupted by demonstrations calling on the elected leadership to resign.

The most recent disruption was on April 6. Police say they had to intervene when the demonstration became violent.

On Thursday, the home of Thabitha Khumalo, a member of the ZCTU council was raided. She said uniformed members of the police, without a warrant, said they had come to search her home for subversive material.

ZCTU secretary-general Wellington Chibebe said the recent crackdown is likely related to the ruling party Zanu-PF's anger over the influential South African labor federation, the Congress of South African Trades Union's solidarity with organized labor in Zimbabwe.

South African unionists belonging to Cosatu as it is widely known in Africa, were deported or refused entry on the two occasions it recently tried to send fact finding missions to Zimbabwe.

Mr. Chibebe said many of his colleagues were concerned that there would be a more serious crackdown on the labor movement because of the appointment last week of former security minister Nicholas Goche to the post of minister of labor.

Mr. Goche recently headed Zimbabwe's Central Intelligence Organization, a government agency heavily criticized for human rights abuses by local and international monitors.

In an interview with the VOA, Mr. Chibebe spoke about the labor movements fears over Mr. Goche's appointment. "You may have realized in the cabinet reshuffle we have been given a new minister of labor, the former minister of state security," he said. "A lot of people are not reading into the strategy....Intelligence would reveal that there is a grand plan, saying by the end of June we must have a new leadership at ZCTU. Unfortunately these people were careless to the extent of announcing the grand plans in newspapers, that by the end of June there must be a new leadership."

Mr. Chibebe said Zanu-PF wanted to ensure that the Zimbabwe government would not be sanctioned at the next International Labor Organization's annual meeting in Geneva in June for violating human rights. To make sure that does not happen, he said, the government is gearing up to justify replacing ZCTU management so they can install a new pro Zanu-PF leadership that they can send to the meeting in Geneva this June.

"They have not been able to address the issue of violation of human and trade union rights, which means it is an issue at the ILO, more so with the deportation of the Cosatu delegation, that's going to be very vital at the ILO," he said.

Minister Goche was not available for comment.

Mr. Chibebe said Zanu-PF has made it clear it believes that it has crushed the opposition Movement for Democratic Change at the March 31 election when the ruling Zanu-PF won a landslide victory.

The MDC emerged out of the trade unions and pro democracy organizations five-and-a-half years ago and draws its strongest support from people living in cities and organized workers.