Union officials arrested in Zimbabwe


Zimbabwe’s government offered to raise public sector wages by 76% , an umbrella group for public sector unions said, in a bid to tackle widespread anger over the state of the economy.

Authorities are cracking down on dissent and preventing opposition-led demonstrations.

Police on Friday arrested 10 union officials trying to lobby the finance minister over low pay for teachers, witnesses said.

Officials from the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe were bundled into a truck outside the finance ministry. Police arrested the group’s lawyer, Douglas Coltart, and a journalist with online news outlet newzimbabwe.com who was filming the arrest, the witnesses said.

The journalist was later released.

The union wanted to present a petition to finance minister Mthuli Ncube over teachers’ salaries, which average around 500 Zimbabwe dollars ($50) a month.

Police spokesman Paul Nyathi could not immediately comment.

The umbrella group for unions, known as the APEX Council, said government’s new, higher pay offer would mean the lowest paid civil servants earned 1,023 Zimbabwe dollars per month compared with their demand of 4,750 dollars.

It would consult members and talks with government would resume.

The economy is mired in its worst crisis in a decade and security forces stopped five attempts by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to hold street demonstrations, dashing hopes government might live up to promises of being more tolerant of dissent than the one it replaced.

The party’s national organising secretary Amos Chibaya appeared before Harare magistrates charged with failing to stop a demonstration the MDC tried to hold a week ago. He denies the charge.

The protest was planned as the launch event for nationwide protests against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa was elected a year ago on a promise of breaking with the strong-arm tactics characterising Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule and engineering an economic upturn.

The MDC accuses Mnangagwa of political repression and blames his government for mismanaging the economy, triggering triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages of fuel, power and bread.

It said in a statement Chibaya’s detention “is testimony the regime is undertaking a brutal programme of persecution by prosecution” of MDC members.

If convicted he faces a year jail term or a fine.

State prosecutors opposed his bail application, saying he would commit the same crime.
Chibaya also faces trial on subversion charges linked to violent protests in January that prompted an army crackdown and led to the deaths of more than a dozen people.

Residents say police increased patrols in Zimbabwe cities, where the MDC enjoys more support, since last week.