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ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, ZIMBABWEANS TELL MUGABE
Harare yesterday resembled a war-torn city as thousands of workers took to the streets to show the government that it can not do whatever if feels like with the people.
In an unprecedented show of people power, business in Harare and other major cities ground to a halt as workers took to the streets to demonstrate against the imposition of a five percent levy and other taxes aimed at raising money to pay ex-combatants gratuities of Z$50 000 each and monthly pensions of Z$2 000.
The government which has become infamous for taking people for granted tried two weeks ago to fast-track through Parliament, a Bill which would make it compulsory for all workers and companies to pay a five percent levy to raise money for ex-combatants. Parliamentarians unanimously opposed the levy, but the executive in its usual arrogance announced that the government was going to go ahead with the levy.
Even the annual conference of the ruling party ZANU PF, held in Mutare last week also strongly opposed the imposition of the levy which was to come together with increases in duty on fuel by 20 cents per litre, and sales tax from 15 to 17,5 percent. The government also increased the levy on electricity bills from five to 10 percent.
Mugabe announced at the Mutare conference that the government would no longer go ahead with the five percent levy but he was silent on increases in sales tax, fuel duty and the increase in electricity levies, prompting the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) to call for a nation-wide peaceful demonstration on yesterday.
With the arrogance typical of a government which has been in power since independence in 1980, the Minister of Home Affairs Dumiso Dabengwa denied the ZCTU permission to hold whatwas supposed to be a peaceful demonstration. The ZCTU quickly and successfully sort a court order for the demonstration to go ahead.
Dabengwa and his Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri ignored the High Court order and braced for confrontation with the workers. They mobilised the riot police, armed them with teargas and ordered them to make sure people did not gather at Africa Unity Square, the intended meeting place for the demonstration. By 7am yesterday all main roads into Harare city centre were manned by riot police and people were not allowed to move even in groups of just five.
Commuter omnibuses carrying people into town for work were being turned back to where they had come from and people were being forced to complete their journey into town on foot. By the time people got into town, they were tired and angry with the riot police. An atmosphere for confrontation had already been created.
On arrival at their workplaces most workers were told by their employers to go back home as they were not going to open their businesses for fear that the planned demonstration might turn violent. Some of the employers obviously wanted their workers to go and join the demonstration to deliver home to the government the message that people have had enough of taxes and levies.
Some of the riot policemen, in their overzealousness, started firing teargas at people who were not demonstrating at all but simply walking alongside one another in what appeared to the police to be groups. The teargas then drifted into buildings forcing people to spill onto streets with an already hostile attitude towards the police, and let alone the government. They started hitting back at the police with stones, and the policemen responded with more teargas, turning the city centre into a smoke arena. Others overturned waste bins onto the street, turning the city centre into a huge refuse dump.
Some people vented their anger on government vehicles and buildings, smashing windows on scores of them, and setting some vehicles on fire. The situation was worsened by hooligans who started breaking into some shops to loot and in some areas were stoning vehicles indiscriminately. A bus belonging to a government owned company was burnt while many were stoned. A truck belonging to the Prisons Service was also set on fire, so were scores of other vehicles belonging to private individuals.
Shops situated near Matapi Hostels in Mbare high density suburb and owned by business men of Asian origin were looted of almost everything, except big items which the hooligans could not carry.Four policemen were seriously wounded by demonstrators who charged at them with stones after they had run out of teargas.
By mid-day the streets of Harare were almost deserted and all roads were littered with stones and garbage. Although the workers never managed to congregate into one big gathering to be addressed by leaders of the ZCTU, by the end of the day government had got the message that it cannot play around with the people.
The Minister of Finance, Herbert Murerwa announced in Parliament yesterday that the government had officially scrapped the five percent War Veterans levy. However, he said the increases in sales tax, electricity levy and duty on fuel would remain until Parliament debated the issue. This is likely to result in another confrontation with the workers.
Unfortunately there were effortsto play down the demonstration in the government owned media. Scenes portraying the violent episodes of the demonstration were not shown on local television. On Monday the ZCTU said if the government did not back down on the other taxes another demonstration would be called. However, officials of the ZCTU are not being covered by the government owned Zimpapers Ltd which publishes the country's two and only daily newspapers. ZCTU secretary general Morgan Tsvangirayi who was blamed by the police commissioner for inciting the public into violence was not given a chance by both television and the newspapers to give his side of the story yesterday.
Zimbabwean workers, however, have become enterprising and will somehow get the message of the demonstration across the whole country with or without the government controlled media as evidenced by the success of yesterday's demonstration nation-wide inspite of the little publicity it was given..
Meanwhile, in typical racist fashion, the government yesterday blamed white business men for inciting their workers to join the demonstration. Although all businesses were closed, including those owned by blacks, the government questioned why white employers had closed their shops so that their workers could join the demonstration.
One minister even accused some farmers of giving their workers time off and ferrying them into the city so that they could join the demonstration.
People have now had enough of Mugabe's government and its strong arm tactics. Even the government owned Herald newspaper today carried a commentary blaming the police for the way they reacted against an intended peaceful demonstration. Teargas is indiscriminate when it flows, and yesterday some of it was blown into Herald House, prompting the paper to carry an comment criticisingthe police.
Today the situation has returned to normal in Harare but another demonstration is likely in the near future to press government into lifting the other taxes introduced last week. There was no sign of riot policemen on the streets of Harare today. Probably the government has realised that it cannot win a confrontation with the people.
People have just had enough of taxes. Yesterday some of the demonstrators carried placards reading: The AIDS Virus is better than the Tax Virus.
In 1992 when Zimbabwe was hit by a devastating drought, the government introduced a five percent drought relief levy which the people expected to be lifted with the end of the drought. However, much to the surprise of the already heavily taxed workers, this was converted into a permanent development levy. Two years ago the government introduced a 10 percent levy on tobacco earnings, and in July this year it introduced a tax on people using company cars.
While most Zimbabweans are not against the payment of gratuities and pensions to ex-combatants, they are opposed to the manner in which the government is trying to raise the money by further burdening the already suffering masses. Zimbabweans are actually among the highest taxed people in the world.
Zimbabweans may have been docile over the years, but they certainly are now a changed people. They know that government ministers bought themselves new Mercedes Benz vehicles under the pretext that these were to be used by foreign heads of state during the solar summit held in Harare last year. The same ministers then bought their old Mercedes Benz cars from the government for between Z$6 000 and Z$10 000, yet the market value of these cars was around Z$250 000.
As if this was not enough abuse of public funds, the ministers have just bought themselves four-wheel drive Cherookes valued at Z$500 000 each for weekend excursions to their farms and rural homes. They have fat salaries and a host of allowances. Mugabe is a frequent traveller outside the country and people feel a lot of money could be saved if he reduced his trips.
Among other measures, the people are arguing that Mugabe should reduce the size of his government by merging some ministries and getting rid of such posts as ministers without portfolio as well as deputy ministers.
Last weekend Mugabe's Mercedes Benz was stoned by a 33-year-old man as Mugabe was escorting President Frederick Chiluba of Zambia to Harare Airport, and one of its headlamps was smashed. Police have said they suspect the man to be mentally disturbed but the truth maybe that the man is quite okay upstairs and probably just fed up of Mugabe's way of governing.
From: AfricaNN@inform-bbs.dk (Africa_news Network) Date: Wed, 10 Dec 1997 20:40:43 +0100 Subject: ZIMBABWE NEWS ONLINE SPECIAL Message-ID: <email@example.com>
Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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