Strike Fails to Shake Mugabe

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The limited leverage available to Zimbabwe's political opposition was evident on Tuesday, when its call for a general strike went largely unheeded. The action had been called to press for the release of the results of an election more than two weeks ago that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) claims to have won, but which the authorities have withheld — and have since talked of a recount next weekend. The MDC had asked the population to stay home but remain indoors rather than take to the streets, but stores and offices were open as usual in most towns and cities. MDC officials said the poor support for its strike call was a result of the threat of police violence, and the desperate need to earn money amid the ongoing collapse of Zimbabwe's economy.

Still, there were outbreaks of violence in townships around the capital, Harare, where banks were open to the public in the central business district although some shops were closed in the morning, but later opened. By midday, the streets of the capital seemed half as busy as on a typical business day. One industrial employee in Willowvale said he went to work because he could not afford to lose a day's wage by staying home. "I had wanted to stay at home but I don't have money to feed my family," he said. "I always use the resources at work like telephones to [supplement] my meager salary, so if I stay at home I won't get those privileges."

A shop owner in the oldest township, Mbare, said he could not risk opening his store in the morning. "We didn't know what was going to happen because there was tension. We were afraid to open the shop because people usually loot." In Warren Park on Monday night, an 85-seater passenger coach had been burnt by protestors, prompting a heavy police presence. Witnesses said they heard gunshots at the scene during the night but were too afraid to go out. And in Glen View 1 township, supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF party and the MDC clashed after MDC supporters distributed flyers urging people to stay away from work. The MDC also said one of its campaign workers had been beaten to death in a rural stronghold of the ruling party. The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists also expressed concern over the fate of journalist Frank Chikoore, 26, who was taken by police at his home in Harare.

MDC officials also warned that government supporters were violently evicting opposition supporters from their homes in Manicaland province. "The violence has now spread throughout the province. It's a disaster, that's how the Darfur crisis started," Patrick Chitaka, the MDC chairman in Manicaland said. "We have reports of systematic violence against our supporters. Apart from beating up people, they are now burning houses. We are going to have thousands of internally displaced people if the situation is not contained fast."

With the opposition apparently powerless to enforce the democratic victory it claims to have won at the polls, much attention has shifted to Zimbabwe's neighbors, foremost among them South Africa, on which the country remains economically dependent. But the South African leadership is internally divided since the ruling African National Congress mutinied against President Thabo Mbeki last December, and chose his arch rival, Jacob Zuma, as party president. And that split may be playing out in South Africa's response to events in Zimbabwe. On Saturday, Mbeki visited Mugabe in Harare and declared that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe, but on Tuesday the ANC's influential National Working Committee said there should be no further delay in releasing Zimbabwe's poll results. In a clear rebuff to Mbeki, the ANC's leadership said the situation was "dire, with negative consequences for all of southern Africa".