Zimbabwean Government Workers Strike as Pay Checks Delayed

  • Strike follows finance ministry delay in payment of salaries
  • Capital rocked Monday by protests over police harassment

A group representing Zimbabwean government workers called for an immediate strike over the state’s failure to pay salaries on time, a day after protesters clashed with the police in Harare, the capital.

“Our valued membership will not be able to report to duty,” the Civil Service Apex Council said in a statement sent to its members Tuesday and handed to Bloomberg. “All civil servants must heed this call, no one will be victimized, our demands will be met.”

The strike call followed the Finance Ministry’s announcement that it was delaying pay for state workers, including the military. It came a day after Harare was hit by riots as taxi operators protested against what they said was police harassment. Violent clashes also erupted last weekend at Zimbabwe’s main border post with South Africa, forcing its closure, when the government banned the import of certain goods.

The riots on Monday started when minibus taxi operators staged demonstrations in suburbs around the capital to complain that police routinely demand money when they stop vehicles to check whether they are roadworthy. Police responded by unleashing dogs and firing tear gas.

Police have arrested 95 people in Harare and they will appear in court on Wednesday, spokeswoman Charity Charamba told reporters in the capital on Tuesday, saying “criminal elements are instigating and inciting” people. There have been calls for a general stay-away on Wednesday on social media.

“We are seeing people being pushed into a corner and they have no option but to confront the regime,” said Showers Mawowa, research manager at the Cape Town-based civil-rights group Southern African Liaison Office.

President Robert Mugabe’s administration has faced a worsening cash shortage in recent months. Since abandoning its own currency in 2009 to end hyperinflation, Zimbabwe has used mainly U.S. dollars, as well as South African rand, euros, and British pounds. The government spends about 83 percent of its revenue on wages for state workers, according to Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

Former Vice President Joice Mujuru, who was expelled from the ruling party, urged Mugabe to call new elections and the police to protect protesters.

“His government has totally failed the people and this is why we are now seeing the demonstrations in the country,” Mujuru told reporters Tuesday at her home in Harare.

Deteriorating Economy

With the economy deteriorating, there are signs that members of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front are joining opposition supporters in criticizing the government’s response, Mawowa said by phone from Pretoria, South Africa’s capital.

“We’re encouraged by the response to our strike call and many teachers have heeded the call,” John Mulilo, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association, said in an interview.

Chinamasa has been leading efforts to revive the southern African nation’s ailing economy and tap financing from the International Monetary Fund. The economy is half the size it was 16 years ago, with about 90 percent of the population out of formal employment. Mugabe declared a state of national disaster this year due to the worst drought in almost two decades that’s killed cattle, withered crops and left millions of people needing food aid.

Policy Shift

The finance minister has said the state may compensate white farmers whose land was confiscated during an often-violent land reform program that slashed agricultural exports. In another sign of policy change, Mugabe issued a statement on April 12 softening regulations forcing foreign companies to ensure black residents own at least 51 percent of their businesses.

Resistance to the policy shift has centered around a faction in Zanu-PF known as the Generation-40, which has coalesced around Mugabe’s wife Grace as a potential eventual successor to the 92-year-old president. In February, Mugabe told people in the party who were sowing discord to “shut up.”

Besides Generation-40, some party factions support Mujuru, while others back Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

“We are always cautious to predict a total meltdown because we are really moving into a phase that Zimbabwe has not seen before,” Mawowa said. “This is also happening at a time when Zanu-PF as a political party is ridden with factionalism. It could be that the regime’s capacity to respond to this may not be as coherent as in the past.”

— With assistance by Godfrey Marawanyika

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