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Southern Express

The Voice of The Vulnerable

ARTUZ PRESS STATEMENT: Fighting for labour justice in a constrained democracy.

7 min read

13 June 2019

Background.

Zimbabwe experienced a political transition in November 2017 under which the military usurped power from the long serving President Robert Mugabe. The Military handed over power to their 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. Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, ARTUZ is a registered Trade Union in line with Public Service Regulations. The Union advances the interests of its over 35 000 membership working in rural schools. The Union has however witnessed gross human rights violations perpetrated by State actors against our members. The Union has documented the following violations.

Arbitrary arrests.
In December 2018 the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, ARTUZ embarked on a salary caravan which was a protest march for 275 km.

The teachers were demanding a living wage from their employer who is government. The protest march was peaceful and lawful in line with section 59 of Zimbabwe’s constitution. Section 59 provides for the right to protest and petition. The Public Order and Security Act, POSA which regulates how section 59 is enjoyed also exempts Trade Unions from seeking police clearance during protests. The marching teachers were however arrested on the 6th day of their peaceful protest. Armed police officers harassed and arrested the marching teachers on Saturday 15 December 2018. The teachers were detained for over 12 hours with no charge. A charge of engaging in an illegal protest was then preferred. On Monday 17 December when the protesters were set to appear in court the National Prosecuting Authority declined to prosecute noting that the teachers had not violated any law. The teachers proceeded with their march but were again arrested on 19 December and were charged with a ridiculous charge of criminal nuisance. The teachers appeared in court after spending the night of 19 December in police cells. The court exonerated them of any wrong doing. On 7 January 2019 when the teachers launched a protest dubbed the salary camp where they were going to camp at Finance Ministry for five days they were once again arrested. 14 teachers were detained for 6 hours without any charge the teachers were later released without a charge. The teachers who are being denied bread by their employer are further denied the right to protest against labour injustice. Demanding a living wage is a pure labour issue that should not be criminalized.

Abductions and torture.

On Wednesday 16 January 2019 members of the Military Intelligence department abducted and tortured ARTUZ Secretary General, Cde Robson Chere at Acturus High School where he is employed as a teacher. Chere was being blamed for having been involved in mobilizing for the protests against fuel increases held from 14 to 16 January. Mr Chere was later dropped at Goromonzi police station. Chere was charged with intimidating and assaulting the members of the Military department.

Mr Chere was acquitted on the intimidation charges but convicted of assaulting armed military personnel. The conviction was ridiculous as it was clear that Chere was a victim not an aggressor yet he was convicted of assaulting his captors. We are appealing against the conviction.

On Friday 18 January at almost midnight armed members of the Military Intelligence department abducted and tortured ARTUZ National President, Obert Masaraure at his Harare home. Masaraure was abducted in front of his wife and kids. After being heavily tortured he was handed over to the police at Harare Central Police Station. Mr. Masaraure was charged with subverting constitutionally elected government and inciting public violence. The charges were linked to the protests of 14 to 16 January. 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 failing to come up with evidence for the cooked up charges. Masaraure is set to appear in court on 29 May 2019.


On Thursday 21 March 2019 the ARTUZ Mashonaland West Chairperson, Mr Munyaradzi Ndawana was abducted and tortured by members of the President’s office in Chinhoyi. Three officials including one identified as Gono tortured him demanding that he cancels a salary protest scheduled for 29 March 2019. Mr Ndawana had gone to Chinhoyi to notify the police of the protest. Mr Ndawana has received medication but is failing to file a police report with police officers denying to file his case. 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.

On 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. 27 April 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 abductors are suspected to be from the Central Intelligence Organisation or the Military Intelligence.

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). 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). Lawyer and ARTUZ Board member, Doug Coltart, was latter called to report to Harare Central and was charged with the same spurious charges as the four teachers. The police continue to hold his laptop which was illegally taken without a warrant for search and seizure.

During the recent 3-5 June job action Members of the dreaded Central Intelligence targeted our leaders, they visited 42 schools where our leaders are stationed. They would proceed to ask questions about ARTUZ, how the member joined, number of ARTUZ members in that area, where ARTUZ gets funding, what motivated member to join among a host of other questions. The questioning would be concluded with threats of unspecified actions if one remained a member of ARTUZ. Five of our members fled the country for their own safety after persistent credible threats to their lives during this job action and we are expecting them back soon. Six have been in hiding. Cde Godfrey Chanda was abducted and detained in Gweru on 4 June while touring schools in the district gathering information on the strike. He was interrogated and released without a charge after being banned from addressing any teachers in Gweru district. ARTUZ President Obert Masaraure was abducted, stripped naked, tortured and left
for dead at midnight of 5 June. State agents who abducted him were demanding that he resigns as leader of ARTUZ. He is still recovering from the heinous act.

ARTUZ conducted a research under the Safe Learning Institutions Initiative, SLII. A sample of 634 of teachers were interviewed. It was alarming to note that teachers are experiencing gross human rights violations that are not being documented. 32 serious cases including rape were unearthed during the research. A copy of the research finding can be supplied upon request.

Conclusion.
The government of Zimbabwe is criminalizing the existence of Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union and is employing all tricks in the book to annihilate our registered Trade Union. ARTUZ calls upon Trade Unions, Civic Society organizations, neighboring states and the people of the SADC region to implore our Zimbabwean government to stop criminalizing our Trade Unionism. We do not seek political power but simply represent the interests of our over 35 000 members.

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