JOHANNESBURG – The Zimbabwean government has gone on an overdrive in its bid to crush worker movements through arbitrary arrests, abductions, torture and intimidation, a teachers’ union leader said this week.
Speaking during a press briefing at Cosatu House, Braamfontein in Johannesburg Thursday, Robson Chere, Secretary-general of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, himself a victim of the latest onslaught on trade union movements, said the Zanu (PF) government was employing “all tricks in the book” to criminalise trade unions and annihilate the legally-registered ARTUZ.
Mr Chere appealed to fellow trade unions in and outside Zimbabwe, Civic Society organizations, neighboring states and the people of the SADC region to implore President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to stop criminalizing trade unionism.
“We do not seek political power but simply represent the interests of our over 35,000 members,” said Chere, who described Mnangagwa as a military proxy, the incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
“The new authority has militarized all spheres of our society. The Zimbabwean Constitution produced in 2013 provides for labour rights in section 65 but the labour laws are still to be aligned to the new constitution and the government continues to violate workers’ rights with impunity.”
ARTUZ, registered in line with Public Service Regulations, boasts a membership strength of
35,000 teachers who work in Zimbabwe’s rural schools.
The Union has recently witnessed gross human rights violations perpetrated by state security agents, acts which include arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial detentions, suspension of salaries and intimidation.
In addition to many other acts of suppression of dissent by teachers seeking a better standard of living, Chere has himself witnessed first-hand acts of repression by the government.
On January 16 this year, the ARTUZ Secretary-general was abducted by members of the Military Intelligence department and tortured at Acturus High School in the country’s Mashonaland East Province, where he is employed as a science teacher. Chere was accused of involvement in mobilizing for protests against fuel increases, held on January 14-16, when government security forces killed dozens of demonstrators following protest violence.
Mr Chere was later dropped at Goromonzi police station, charged with intimidating and assaulting the members of the military. He was acquitted on the intimidation charges but convicted of assaulting armed military personnel.
Human rights groups have described the conviction as ridiculous, arguing it was clear that Chere was a victim not an aggressor, yet he was convicted of assaulting his captors. Chere is appealing against the conviction.
On January 18, at almost midnight, armed members of the Military Intelligence department abducted and tortured ARTUZ National President, Obert Masaraure at his Harare home, in front of his wife and children.
After being heavily tortured, he was handed over to the police at Harare Central Police Station and charged with subverting a constitutionally elected government and inciting public violence. Again, the charges were linked to the January protests. Masaraure spent 16 days in Chikurubhi Maximum prison and was released on stringent bail conditions. One of the conditions bars him from posting anything on social media and addressing public gatherings. The trial is still to kick off, with the State seemingly failing to come up with evidence.
Masaraure is set to appear in court on May 29.
“The government has since the January 2019 protests frozen salaries for teachers who took part in job actions and the teachers are yet to appear before a disciplinary committee as is supposed to be the case according to the law,” said Chere, one of the 11 affected.
Other outstanding cases of abductions:
Friday 5 April 2019 state agents in Guruve abducted Mr Mackswell Basiyavo and
took him to their offices. They sprayed water on him and used different methods of
torture on him. They forced him to cut his dreadlocks and instructed him to stop
engaging in his trade Unionism work.
April 27 2019 four teachers (namely Robson Chere, Jess Drury, Precious Ndlovu and Munyaradzi Ndawana) were abducted from a meeting held in Greystone Park, Harare and were subsequently tortured and ill-treated by state security agents during interrogation. The teachers were abducted in Greystone Park, Harare at 10:45 on Saturday 27 April 2019 by about ten state security agents in plainclothes who illegally forced their way into a private property without a search warrant and forced the four teachers into two unmarked vehicles and gathered up all workshop materials which were placed in a third vehicle (white Toyota Rav 4 reg number ADL 7066).
The teachers were interrogated for more than four hours without being given access to their lawyers or being informed of their right to remain silent. Their lawyers were lied to by state security agents about their whereabouts. During their interrogation, Robson Chere and Munyaradzi Ndawana were physically assaulted and psychological manipulation was used against Jess Drury and Precious Ndlovu.
“This conduct by the state security agents violates section 53 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which states that ‘No person may be subjected to physical or psychological torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’ After their abduction had been widely publicized, the teachers were subsequently handed over to ZRP Law and Order and were charged with section 37 of the Criminal Code (Participating in gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of the peace or bigotry),” said Chere.
“ARTUZ condemns this absurd charge and has no basis in fact. The meeting in question was about educational techniques and pedagogical approaches developed by educators such as Paulo Freire and had an explicit emphasis on the need peaceful resolution of conflict and nonviolence. The Constitution of Zimbabwe protects the right to freedom of expression which includes the right seek, receive and communicate ideas (section 61) and the right to participate collectively or individually in gatherings or groups or in any other manner, in peaceful activities to influence, challenge or support the policies of the Government or any other cause (section 67).”