Armed police raid Zimbabwe trade union offices

On Wednesday 11th January 2006 armed police raided the offices of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) seizing documents as the government steps up a crackdown against civic society.

Submitted by Steven. on January 14, 2006

The raid came as government begun investigations into the umbrella labour body's operations, a probe that observers say could lead to the deregistration of the labour body. ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo told zimdaily that the real motive behind the probe into allegations of financial impropriety was to find a pretext to get rid of the labour movement after the government failed to impose puppet leaders on the ZCTU last year.

The ZCTU has proved to be a thorn in the flesh of government. Last year it successfully organised mass protests against worsening poverty fighting several battles with police. Police details, who rummaged through ZCTU offices seizing files and computer diskettes, said they wanted the material to prove that the union was illegally dealing in foreign currency. ZCTU leaders immediately dismissed the claim they were illegally dealing in foreign exchange as a mere ploy by the government to harass them and intimidate them from fighting for workers’ rights and freedoms.

"The police impounded most of our floppy diskettes and some files. They said they were investigating some cases of fraud and of involvement in illegal foreign currency dealings by union officials," ZCTU secretary general Wellington Chibebe said. "This is just a way of trying to intimidate the ZCTU but we will not be deterred. We are now used to these dirty tactics. We will remain focused. We have not been involved in any illegal foreign exchange dealings they are talking about," he added. The police were not available for comment at the time of going to print.

But sources at police headquarters in Harare said the raid was ordered from high office and that it was part of a plan to destabilise major union and civic society groups aligned to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party. "The instructions are coming from above . . . the idea is to destabilise the entire labour union and all the organisations which are sympathetic to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The ZCTU still has strong ties with the MDC," said a senior police officer, who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation. The Zimbabwean government this week deployed Tendai Chatsauka to investigate the financial affairs of the labour body.

Matombo and other ZCTU insiders fear that Chatsauka, a government official, already has a pre-arranged mandate to condemn the ZCTU and facilitate its deregistration. ZCTU insiders said the investigator could come up with damaging findings giving the government a convenient excuse to arrest Matombo and secretary general Wellington Chibebe. They could then be replaced by government supporters. Matombo and Chibebe spent much of last year fending off largely unsubstantiated allegations that they had misappropriated funds. The allegations were raised by a few ZCTU affiliates, believed to be under the sponsorship of Zimbabwe's Central Intelligence Organisation.

"We are surprised as to why they are recycling the same unfounded allegations that money was misappropriated at the ZCTU," Matombo said. "But maybe we shouldn't be surprised because we know their motive." State security agents including the feared spy Central Intelligence Organisation, recently raided about 14 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) quizzing officials about their operations and sources of income. The government claimed it was probing the NGOs to ensure they were operating within the law and that they were not offloading foreign currency received from outside funders onto the illegal black-market.

The National Association of NGOs (NANGOs) said the government inquiry appeared to be more than just meant to ensure civic bodies were operating within the law but appeared to have an ulterior motive. The association said it feared the state could use information gathered during the raids to close down targeted NGOs once the new NGO Bill becomes effective law. Relations between the ZCTU and the government have been hostile since the labour union gave birth to the MDC in 1999.

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