Zimbabwe strike lukewarm

But organisers claimed the strike was a success, saying half the country’s workforce had stayed home on the first of two days of labour action.

“The stay-away call has been heeded by workers, but businesses have opened. Mind you, we did not call on business people to stay away,” said Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the Broad Alliance, a coalition of opposition, civic and labour groups.

Some people said they went to work under duress as they did not want to be labelled opposition sympathisers. Others said they could not afford to strike.

The strike came as President Robert Mugabe defended his action in an address for the official opening of parliament, boycotted by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The government’s campaign to raze makeshift shacks and stalls has left between 200,000 and 1.5 million people homeless and stripped countless small traders of a livelihood.

Mr Mugabe said it would improve people’s lives and was “meant to create a better infrastructure for the ordinary man.”

“The current chaotic state of affairs where small to medium scale
enterprises operated outside the regulatory framework and in undesignated crime-ridden areas could not be countenanced much longer,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s long-time leader, who has often accused Western powers of meddling in his country’s affairs, reiterated he would not tolerate any “interference.”

Meanwhile armed police continued demolishing and torching backyard shacks and makeshift shop stalls.

At least 22,000 people were detained in the capital Harare alone.

Evicted families have been sleeping in the open in several townships and slums on the outskirts of Harare while others are battling to find transport to take them to their rural homes.

Amid mounting anger over the ‘clean up’ operation President Mugabe in parliament urged unity to build “a prosperous, free and democratic nation”.

The new parliament, in which Mugabe’s party enjoys a two-thirds majority, is expected to amend Zimbabwe’s constitution to reintroduce a bicameral house.

It is also expected to change land laws to ease the expropriation of farms.