Zimbabwe’s Civil Servants in Unprecedented Strike for Better Wages

Government workers say their earnings are disappearing under skyrocketing inflation.

Credit…Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Civil servants stung by Zimbabwe’s galloping inflation staged a one-day strike on Wednesday in a demand for increased wages, saying that their earnings were disappearing under skyrocketing prices.

Inflation in the southern African nation is running at about 300 percent, according to International Monetary Fund figures, and has prompted walkouts by doctors and nurses as well.

“We need increased salaries to be able to keep coming to work,” said Charles Mubwandarikwa, chairman of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, which joined the government workers’ strike in solidarity.

Zimbabwean doctors, many of whom have been on strike for about two months, are demanding that their wages not only be increased, but that they be paid in American dollars as a hedge against inflation.

On Monday, nurses in local authority clinics in the capital, Harare, also walked off the job. The nurses said that they, too, were unable to work because of poor wages.

The government appeared acutely aware of the mounting crisis. On Tuesday, Monica Mutsvangwa, the minister of information, said at a news conference that “medical services at most central hospitals” remained limited because “the public hospitals medical doctors’ strike has now gone beyond 63 days.”

Over the past few months, the government has tried to appease workers by providing allowances to help meet the rising cost of living. But the measures were not enough to stop the board representing civil servants in Zimbabwe, the Apex Council, from calling Wednesday’s strike.

“Government workers are earning an equivalent of $40 or less, and so we appeal to the government to pay us better,” said a member of the council, Takavarasha Zhou.

The police had approved Wednesday’s strike, the first time a job action by government workers had been permitted. The authorities in general have taken a hard line against demonstrations: In August, with the backing of a court, the authorities banned demonstrations by members of opposition political parties and civil society organizations.

The striking workers on Wednesday sang and danced as they gathered outside the offices of the Apex Council. They waved placards with protest slogans directed at the government. Some clashes erupted between strikers and police forces.

The protesters had wanted to march to the offices of the Ministry of Finance, where they had intended to hand over a petition outlining their grievances. But heavily armed police officers blocked their movement.

“It’s like police gave us the right to march with their right hand, but quickly snatched it away with their left hand,” said Cecilia Alexander, the president of the Apex Council.

Since coming to power, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has resorted to force to quell dissent.

In August 2018, after demonstrators in Zimbabwe’s capital called the country’s peaceful elections a sham and demanded the immediate release of the results in the July presidential poll, Mr. Mnangagwa’s government unleashed the army on protesters.

At least six people were killed in the clashes.

In January this year, Mr. Mnangagwa’s government again deployed the military when antigovernment protests broke out against a rise in fuel prices, leaving 17 people fatally shot in Harare and nearby towns.

Even as Zimbabwe has tried to re-engage Washington, a diplomatic fallout between Zimbabwe and the United States has complicated matters.

The foreign affairs minister, Sibusiso Moyo, accused the United States ambassador to Zimbabwe, Brian Nicholson, of acting like a member of the country’s opposition. Mr. Moyo this month threatened to cut off diplomatic ties after Mr. Nicholson apparently suggested that corruption was behind the country’s economic malaise.

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