Zimbabweans ignore strike call for fear of reprisal

April 15th, 2008 - 5:20 pm ICT by admin  

Harare/Johannesburg, April 15 (DPA) A general strike to press for the release of results from last month’s presidential elections got underway in Zimbabwe Tuesday but many people went to work as usual citing fears of reprisal. Security in the capital Harare was tight on the first day of the open-ended work stay-away called by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to try to secure results from the March 29 vote.

Army trucks, some equipped with water cannon, moved through opposition strongholds in the city and riot police and police manned checkpoints.

Despite signs that many in Harare had ignored the strike call as buses ferried people to work and markets opened as normal the MDC was already describing the pressure tactics as a success.

“Given that the unemployment rate is more than 80 percent and the intimidatory tactics being used by the regime, we have been successful,” MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said.

The party called for a stayaway after the high court in Harare Monday dismissed its application for a court order forcing the state-controlled Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to urgently release the poll results.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai claims to have defeated longtime President Robert Mugabe in the election but Mugabe’s party claims neither Mugabe nor Tsvangirai won outright, and that a runoff will be needed.

Several people interviewed by DPA in Harare said they had gone to work for fear of being victimised.

“In the previous stayaways, some people would come after and threaten us if we continued listening to the MDC,” said Spiwe Samunga, a salesperson at a clothes shop.

Machel Mhofu, a 28-year-old mechanic, said the heavy police presence in his neighbourhood convinced him to go to work.

“I thought they would go from door to door asking why we are at home,” he said.

In the first signs of an escalation police said they suspected MDC members of torching a bus in the Warren Park area of the capital in the early morning.

Witnesses at the scene said no one was injured as the assailants had asked the passengers to disembark before burning it.

“That is an act of Zanu-PF, who want to tarnish our image and divert the attention of the purpose of the stay-away,” the MDC’s Chamisa accused. “We believe in a peaceful demonstration.”

ZEC’s failure to announce the outcome 17 days after the vote has caused consternation in Zimbabwe and abroad.

The results were posted outside polling stations around the country the day after voting.

The MDC accuses Mugabe of withholding the results to manipulate the outcome and said it opposes a runoff but Tsvangirai has indicated at least twice in recent days he would partake in a second round if Zimbabwe’s neighbours could ensure it was free and fair.

On Sunday, an emergency meeting of Zimbabwe’s neighbours in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) ended with a call for the ZEC to release the results “expeditiously”.

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