Posts tagged Robert Mugabe

The luxury of truth

Here’s the latest from occupied Zimbabwe:

The World Association of Newspapers and World Editors Forum have called for the repeal of a punitive luxury tax on newspapers that are imported into Zimbabwe, which is preventing independent newspapers from reaching their audience.

The tax was imposed in early June in the run-up to the widely condemned presidential election won by Robert Mugabe after his opponent quit the race in the face of escalating violence against his supporters. It aims to reduce the influence of South African-based news sources, which have been extremely important to Zimbabweans.

Restricting access to information by punitive taxation constitutes a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Paris-based WAN and WEF, which represent 18,000 newspapers world-wide, said in a letter to President Mugabe.

The two organisations called on Mugabe to remove the luxury tax on foreign publications and to end state intimidation of the independent media. All domestic independent newspapers and broadcasters in Zimbabwe are banned.

The letter to the President said:

We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 102 countries, to call on you to immediately lift the punitive luxury tax imposed on imported newspapers, magazines and periodicals, which is clearly aimed at preventing independent newspapers from reaching the people of Zimbabwe.

On 8 June, the state-owned Herald newspaper reported that all foreign newspapers sold in Zimbabwe will now have to pay import duty, as the government moves to protect Zimbabwean media space. The newspaper went on to say that this move is meant to curb the entry into the country of what it called hostile foreign newspapers.

All foreign publications are now classed as luxury goods and therefore attract import duty at 40 percent. The tax appears to be particularly aimed at South African-based news sources, which have been extremely important to Zimbabweans. All domestic independent newspapers and broadcasters in Zimbabwe are banned.

The Zimbabwean, a twice-weekly newspaper printed in South Africa for distribution in Zimbabwe, has been forced to pay almost USD20,000 per week and is reducing its circulation from 200,000 copies to 60,000 as a result.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority refused to release a consignment of 60,000 copies of the 19 June issue of The Zimbabwean. This followed the burning of 60 000 copies of The Zimbabwean on Sunday on 25 May.

We respectfully remind you that restricting access to information by punitive taxation constitutes a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Declaration states: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.

We respectfully call on you to remove the luxury tax on foreign publications and to end state intimidation of the independent media. We urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that in future your country fully respects international standards of freedom of information.

WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom and the professional and business interests of newspapers world-wide. Representing 18,000 newspapers, its membership includes 77 national newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 11 regional and world-wide press groups.

The WEF is the organisation for editors within the World Association of Newspapers (http://www.worldeditorsforum.org).

Inquiries to: Larry Kilman, Director of Communications, WAN, 7 rue Geoffroy St Hilaire, 75005 Paris France. Tel: +33 1 47 42 85 00. Fax: +33 1 47 42 49 48. Mobile: +33 6 10 28 97 36. E-mail: lkilman@wan.asso.fr.

— World Association of Newspapers (2008-07-08): Newspapers Fight Luxury Tax in Zimbabwe

WAN and WEF have to be diplomatic in their letter, so they can only respectfully remind. But I am under no such obligation, so I will take the liberty of saying here that the actions of the armed faction occupying the seats of power in Harare are despicable and yet another step down an incredibly dangerous road. Zimbabwe is a naturally rich and fertile country that has been systematically stripped and immiserated by a century of successive kleptocratic armed factions — first the land-grabbing white colonialists, and then an independent white apartheid government, and now a violent anti-colonial, revolutionary government which intones populist slogans to justify thievery, patronage to its political supporters, and sustained state and paramilitary assaults on all popular movements and all centers of civil society that are even remotely independent of the all-devouring State. This latest assault on Zimbabwean civil society and basic norms of truth and rationality, in declaring all non-State-dominated sources of information a mere frippery, indeed as a sort of decadence from which Zimbabweans must be protected against their wills, is only one of many incredibly troubling developments from a belligerent occupying regime, which imposes the will of a tiny political-military clique on the innocent and unwilling majority, and which indulges in the incredible audacity of passing itself off as a Leftist regime, while actively constituting itself as one of the most violently anti-worker governments in the world.

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Inciting people to rise against the government and reporting falsehoods about people being killed

Here is the front page, above-the-fold story from the current issue of the Industrial Worker, on troubling news from Zimbabwe, a rich and fertile country immiserated and stripped by a century of kleptocratic armed factions — first the land-grabbing colonialists, and then an independent white apartheid government, and now a violent anti-colonial, revolutionary government, which has intoned populist slogans in order to justify government patronage to its political supporters, while assaulting all popular movements independent of the government — especially workers’ unions — on the grounds that any movement independent of, or opposed to, the anti-imperial government must therefore be a tool of white imperialism. The government that claims the right to rule Zimbabwe has, through this and other means, made itself into one of the most violently anti-worker governments in the world today.

Zimbabwe [sic] arrests unionists, opposition

Zimbabwe’s ruling party and paramilitaries are conducting a terror campaign of arrests and captive meetings of opposition supporters before the presidential run-off election on June 27.

Police arrested the union president Lovemore Motombo and general secretary Wellington Chibebe of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) on May 8. Police charged them with inciting people to rise against the government and reporting falsehoods about people being killed during a May Day rally.

The General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe has said that 40,000 farm workers are affected by the current terror campaign that has led to violence and eviction from their workplaces.

Teachers in rural classrooms are among those being targetted as MDC supporters. Two have been killed to date, with a third abducted by Zanu-PF paramilitaries. The teachers’ union has received reports that the Zanu-PF are chasing teachers out of schools, beating them, and demanding repentance fines in the form of cash, goats, and cattle, according to IRIN, a United Nations news service report. The situation in the schools resembles war zones, and there is no way teachers can report for work to face those death squads, Raymond Majongwe, president of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, told IRIN.

Our fear is that more could be under torture, or have been killed, said Majongwe.

The MDC has placed the death toll since the March 29 election at 43 people, with hundreds beaten and more than 5,000 people fleeing to the mountains and elsewhere to escape Zanu-PF militias.

People who have tried to file complaints to the police are, in turn, detained and interrogated, said the MDC, which means few people are coming forward.

On April 25, armed police raided the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) headquarters in Harare and arrested more than 300 men, women and children who had taken refuge there from political violence.

National and international unions have condemned the Zanu-PF for the violence against union members and party activists.

Dockworkers affiliated with the Congress of South African Trade Unions in South Africa and dockworkers in Mozambique refused to unload a ship loaded with AK-47 machine gun bullets, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades sold by China to Zimbabwe. The ship returned to China without unloading its cargo.

In a speech to the Zanu-PF’s Central Committee on May 16, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said Zimbabwean democracy was stronger than ever and blamed the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for inciting rural violence to benefit Western political and corporate interests.

Such violence is needless and must stop forthwith. Our fist is against white imperialism; it is a fist for the people of Zimbabwe, never a fist against them.

The same day, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai delayed his return to Zimbabwe, saying that his party alleged that the military planned to kill him and at least 36 other opposition leaders.

Tsvangirai had been lobbying neighbouring countries and the United Nations to pressure Mugabe to release and accept the election results.

While the MDC refers to Tsvangirai as the President on its web site, it has agreed to contest the presidential run-off in a bid to avoid violence such as that seen in Kenya after its election.

Despite the violence, MDC activists are gearing up for the presidential election campaign. The MDC said that 20,000 activists attended a rally in Harare.

The people are very clear on what they want. They want change. The dictatorship is dead and on 27 June we must attend its burial, said MDC parliamentarian Nelson Chamisa.

— The Industrial Worker 105.04 (June 2008): Zimbabwe arrests unionists, opposition

It’s hard to know what to do in the face of this kind of violence, especially when it is so far away. There may not be much that American workers really can do other than bear witness and hope. But I do want to call special attention to the vital importance of actions like those of the dockworkers in South Africa and Mozambique — an inspiring example both of direct action on the shop floor, and also international labor solidarity. In the end, the actions of workers both in Zimbabwe and in international solidarity campaigns will matter far more than even the fairest, most transparent, most open elections ever will or ever could. What is needed is more — not just inspiring examples, but a coordinated campaign of industrial action against the entire coercive apparatus of Zanu-PF and the Zimbabwean state, to choke off their capacity to attack and terrorize workers.

What Mugabe and his apparatchiks are doing to workers in Zimbabwe is abominable, but we must never forget that the workers have more power standing with our hands in our pockets than all the combined wealth and weapons of the bosses — whether economic, social, or political.

Further reading:

May Day 2008

There will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!

–Last words of August Spies (1887-11-11), immigrant, anarchist, and Haymarket martyr

Fellow workers:

Today is May Day, or International Workers’ Day, a holiday created by Chicago workers–most of them anarchists–to honor the memory of the Haymarket martyrs and to celebrate the struggle of workers for freedom, for a better life, and for control over the conditions of their own labor. It was created during the radical phase of the struggle for an eight-hour day: after legislative campaigns by the Knights of Labor and the National Labor Union failed, labor radicals in Chicago — organizers like Albert Parsons, Lucy Parsons, August Spies — declared that workers should take matters into their own hands, in the form of direct action on the shop floor. Workers would no longer try to get an eight-hour day by promising a useful and compliant voter base in return for patronage from politicians. To get an eight-hour shift, workers would make their own: in many shops, workers in the International Working People’s Association would bring their own whistle to work and blow it at the end of an eight hour shift — at which point most or all of the workers on the floor would just get up and just walk off, like the free people they were, whether or not the boss demanded more hours of labor. At the height of the struggle, they organized a General Strike, in defiance of the bosses and in spite of repeated violence from the Law.

Today is also the third annual day of rallies, strikes and marches against the criminalization of immigrant workers. A day which immigrant workers have chosen for actions against the bigotry of nativist bullies, the violence of La Migra, and the political system of international apartheid, as contemptible as it is lethal. A day to proudly proclaim We are not criminals and We are not going anywhere, to demand the only political program that recognizes it — open borders and unconditional amnesty for all undocumented workers.

And it is a joy for me to read that today is also a day of strikes against the bosses’ war in Iraq, which will shut down all the sea ports on the west coast of the United States, as an act of defiance against the State war machine and against the worthless political opportunists who promise to end it while voting, over and over again, to sustain it:

Amid this political atmosphere, dockworkers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have decided to stop work for eight hours in all U.S. West Coast ports on May 1, International Workers’ Day, to call for an end to the war.

This decision came after an impassioned debate where the union’s Vietnam veterans turned the tide of opinion in favor of the anti-war resolution. The motion called it an imperial action for oil in which the lives of working-class youth and Iraqi civilians were being wasted and declared May Day a no peace, no work holiday. Angered after supporting Democrats who received a mandate to end the war but who now continue to fund it, longshoremen decided to exercise their political power on the docks.

— Jack Heyman, San Francisco Chronicle (2008-04-09): Longshoremen [sic] to close ports on West Coast to protest war

The Longshore workers have the explicit support of postal workers in New York and San Francisco, and I hope this will be only the beginning of ongoing, widespread industrial action to end a war that political action — even after two election cycles, after hundreds of millions of dollars, after countless hours of lobbying and electioneering, after a change in government, and with the backing of an overwhelming supermajority of the populace — has proven completely incapable of ending.

This is May Day as it is and ought to be. A Day of Resistance against the arrogance and power of bosses, bordercrats, bullies, and the Maters of War, who would harass us, intimidate us, silence us, exploit us, beat us, jail us, deport us, extort us, and do anything else it takes to stop us from coming into our own. A day to celebrate workers’ struggles for dignity, and for freedom, through organizing in their own self-interest, through agitating and exhorting for solidarity, and through free acts of worker-led direct action to achieve their goals, marching under the banners of We are all leaders here and Dump the bosses of your back. A day to remember:

There Is Power In A Union

There is power, there is power,
In a band of working folk,
When we stand
Hand in hand.

–Joe Hill (1913)

Radio Bilingüe has a list of immigration marches and rallies across the country today. I plan to be at the mitin in Las Vegas tonight:

  • Las Vegas immigrant rights mitin (rally)
  • Tonight, May 1, 2008, 7:00 PM
  • Federal Courthouse, 333 Las Vegas Blvd S.

Meanwhile, in the news, some useless idiot is wandering around Washington proclaiming Law Day, accosting hundreds of millions of complete strangers to tell them to put on ceremonies in praise of his own power to do the beating, jailing, deporting, etc. In Istanbul, organized workers marched to Taksim Square in defiance of the Turkish government, which has declared their free assembly illegal, and which has deployed government riot cops to attack them with firehoses and tear gas. In Harare, organized workers are holding rallies today to call attention to the devastating effect of the government’s hyperinflationary money monopoly on workers’ wages–and an apparatchik of the Zimbabwean government–one of the most violently anti-worker governments in the world–is taking the opportunity to wear a concerned expression and assure that Government would at all times endeavour to make sure that workplaces were monitored through inspections to minimize hazards that might injure or kill them. (No word yet on whether the hazards the inspectors will be inspecting for include the Zimbabwe Republic Police or the Central Intelligence Organization.) We must never forget what this band of creeps and fools is doing their best to remind us of — that the State is the most deadly weapon of our enemies, and that it is a weapon that we will never be able to wield for ourselves without chaining ourselves to politics and destroying the very things we meant to fight for.

In this season and in these days, in the midst of Babel during its most raucous festival–when so much of what we see and hear are the endless shouts of professional blowhards who know of no form of social change other than political change, and who know of no site of political change other than the gladiatorial arena of electoral politics, and who seem to know of no form of electoral politics other than polling, horse-trading, and endlessly shouting about a series of nomenklatura-contrived issues, which boil down to little more than a media-facilitated exchange of racist, sexist, ageist, and authoritarian barbs among the nomenklatura-approved serious candidates–it’s important to remember that, in spite of all the noise and spectacle, the most significant events for labor and for human freedom are happening in the streets of cities all over the country and all over the world, where workers are organizing among themselves, demanding their rights, fighting for their lives, and defying or simply bypassing the plutocrats and their so-called laws. In the U.S.A., while the punch-drunk establishmentarian labor movement reels from one failure to another, some of the most dynamic and successful labor struggles in the past few years have been fought by a grassroots union organized along syndicalist lines without NLRB recognition, using creative secondary boycott tactics which would be completely illegal if they had submitted to the regulatory patronage of the Wagner-Taft-Hartley system. There is a lesson here–a lesson for workers, for organizers, for agitators, and anti-statists. One we’d do well to remember when confronted by any of the bosses–whether corporate bosses or political, the labor fakirs and the authoritarian thugs styling themselves the vanguard of the working class, the regulators and the deporters and the patronizing friends of labor all:

Dump the Bosses Off Your Back

Are you cold, forelorn, and hungry?
Are there lots of things you lack?
Is your life made up of misery?
Then dump the bosses off your back!

–John Brill (1916)

Happy May Day, y’all.

Elsewhere Today:

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