By Costa Nkomo
POLICE on Friday brutally crushed a wild-cat protest by the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) members who wanted to picket at the Ministry of Finance in protest over the poor salaries.
Last year, ARTUZ members marched from Mutare to Harare demanding salaries in US dollars.
ARTUZ has alternatively been calling on government to review teachers’ salaries in accordance with the interbank rate the central bank introduced in February this year after floating the local currency/bond note at $2.50 against USD$.
Currently, the interbank rate against local currency stands at USD$1: $8.7.
At least eight members of the union including human rights lawyer Douglas Coltart were arrested and charged with “public nuisance”. Coltart was assaulted with rubber truncheons before he was handcuffed in the process.
ARTUZ members who were led by their president Obert Masaraure had christened their protest ‘Black Friday’.
The police harassed bystanders who were dressed in black on assumption they were in solidarity with the protesters.
Another lawyer and MDC secretary for education Fadzayi Mahere said police had overstepped their mandate in arresting ARTUZ members as labour is exempted from the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).
“The protesters were completely peaceful. Trade unions are exempt from POSA. This is unconstitutional and ruthless,” she wrote on Twitter Friday.
Under POSA, the police has powers to prohibit protests and need to be notified by conveners but trade unions are exempted.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Peter Mutasa described the ARTUZ arrest as barbaric saying the authorities should allow teachers to present their case without victimisation.
“We strongly condemn the barbaric act of the State which is also a clear violation of the law.
“Trade Unions are exempted from POSA hence the arrest and violence against ARTUZ members is an illegal act by those mandated to protect observance of the law,” said Mutasa.
“Teachers, like any other workers, are raising legitimate grievances and must be allowed to demonstrate and petition in terms of the Constitution.”
Mutasa called on the government to stop harassment of workers, civil society leaders and activists who have lately faced a clampdown from suspected security agents in the wake of the MDC’s still-born attempt to hold countrywide mass demonstrations.
“We also demand that the government must stop victimisation, harassment, abductions, and torture of trade union and civic society activists.”