Poor turnout as Zimbabwe public workers protest wages

Less than 50 Zimbabwe civil servants turned up for a planned protest against hyperinflation on Wednesday, most lacking money for transport because of the crisis and fearing police retaliation.

Doctors, nurses and teachers have held several protests this year to demand increases to salaries battered by decades of economic mismanagement under former president Robert Mugabe.

His successor Emmerson Mnangagwa has so far failed to improve the economy and critics say he has increased repression of opponents since coming to power in 2018.

“You have subjected us to real slavery and poverty,” read a placard carried by one of the protesters, as they marched in the capital Harare under heavy police presence.

“Give us our salaries in USD,” said another slogan referring to the US currency.

Zimbabwe’s main government workers union Apex Council received authorisation to march for better pay earlier this week.

But the protest came in the middle of a prolonged doctors’ protest that has soured relationships with their Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) labour union.

Dozens of doctors were fired this week for taking part in the strike.

“This demo is about civil servants’ salaries in Zimbabwe,” Apex Council secretary David Dzatsunga told AFP at the march. “Our salaries have been decimated by inflation.”

Doctors claim the value of their pay checks shrank 15-fold over the past year. But they rejected a 60-percent rise offer by the government and are demanding their salaries be pegged to the US dollar.

“The health sector is in a crisis, it is collapsing,” said the head of Zimbabwe’s rural teachers union Robson Chere.

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“The same thing will cascade to other sections of the public services,” he said.

But few people took part in Wednesday’s march.

“We have police here,” said Dzatsunga. “People are afraid to come.”

Marches have proven deadly in Zimbabwe.

Days after the July election, the army used deadly force to control a demonstration by unarmed civilians protesting a delay in announcing vote results. Six people died.

In January the army attacked protesters marching against a hefty fuel price hike, leaving 17 dead, scores injured and hundreds arrested.

Many civil servants could simply not afford travel into town for Wednesday’s rally, organisers said.

Fuel prices in Zimbabwe have spiked by more than 400 percent since the start of the year, and most wages can no longer cover a daily commute to work.

Mnangagwa was elected in 2018 on a promise to revive the economy and attract foreign investment. He took over from Mugabe after the ex-president was toppled by the army in 2017. Mugabe died earlier this year.

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