Top Zimbabwean union leader Gertrude Hambira has fled to neighbouring South Africa, as police raided her Harare offices on Monday wanting to arrest her for releasing a video showing how President Robert Mugabe’s supporters committed rights abuses and other crimes against farm workers.

by Joao EM Matandirani

 The raid by the police on the offices of Hambira’s General Agriculture and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Gapwuz) was the third in seven days and union leaders said she left for South Africa because of “fears for her life”. “She (Hambira) fled to South Africa on Thursday . . . fearing for her life,” said Wellington Chibebe, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the mother union for the Gapwuz. The police and agents of the government’s spy Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) have been accused in the past of severely beating up and torturing union leaders, human rights activists, independent journalists and other perceived opponents of Mugabe and his Zanu PF party. Chibebe declined to disclose much on the nature of the threats to Hambira’s life.

However, the ZCTU in a statement said it was “disturbed by the continued attack on the general secretary of the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Gapwuz), Gertrude Hambira and staff members of Gapwuz”. The union called on the coalition government of Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to order police and other security agents to stop harassment of union leaders. In a raid last Friday, the police arrested two union officials, who were still in custody by end of business on Monday.

Meanwhile the Africa office of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has written to Mugabe protesting the “arrests and harassments” of union leaders and urged the Zimbabwean leader to order police to release Gapwuz officials from detention and to return property seized from the union’s offices. “ITUC-Africa strongly condemns the continuing arrests and harassments of trade unionists by your security forces, which in our opinion represent worst abuses of workers’ rights,” Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, the secretary general of the ITUC regional office, wrote to Mugabe. “We urge you to order the immediate and unconditional release of the Gapwuz officials that are currently under arrest in Zimbabwe and to ensure the return of any properties taken from their offices by your security personnel.”

The video produced by Hambira and Gapwuz that has angered Mugabe’s security agents show how Mugabe’s land reforms that were ironically meant to benefit poor blacks led to gross human rights violations including torture, rape and murder against black workers on former white-owned farms. Individual workers give testimonies in the 26-minute video on how they were affected by the farm seizures which were spearheaded by mobs of pro-Mugabe war veterans and Zanu PF party activists. The video that is also accompanied by a report highlights how basic labour laws were violated and contains evidence of people who were beaten up, harassed and sometimes shot by Mugabe’s militia under the guise of redistributing arable land previously in the hands of whites. The decade-long farm invasions which the 86-year-old Mugabe says were necessary to ensure blacks also had access to arable land that they were denied by previous white-led governments have been blamed for plunging Zimbabwe into food shortages.