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Security agents on high alert

Gift Phiri

GOVERNMENT has placed a crack army battalion and riot police units on high alert and directed them to crush planned December 10 protests by Cosatu, the South African labour body, over human rights

abuses by President Robert Mugabe, top security sources said this week.

Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi yesterday declined to comment on the revelations saying: “It’s a security item I am not ready to discuss with the press.”

Cosatu yesterday dismissed as misleading media reports suggesting that President Thabo Mbeki had bullied them into a postponement.

Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven, speaking in a telephone interview from Johannesburg, said the strike action was going ahead as planned.

“They are just reports we read on zimonline (a Zimbabwean news website) but certainly we are going ahead as planned,” Craven said.

“This was the resolution out of a central executive committee last week. We have received overwhelming support from other trade unions in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana.”

Top security sources told the Zimbabwe Independent that government’s Joint Operations Command (JOC), a think-tank of top military and security officials, had mapped out a broad plan to crack down on the mass action being planned by the Congress of South African Trade Unions and other regional civic bodies.

The plan, devised by JOC over the past two weeks as tensions rise in South Africa over human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, envisages the deployment of heavy security at all embassies and heightened day-and-night police patrols at the Beitbridge border post in the coming week.

This came as Cosatu and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party traded insults over President Thabo Mbeki’s failure to resolve Zimbabwe’s multifaceted crisis.

The differences over Zimbabwe threaten to split South Africa’s tripartite alliance led by the ANC, which also includes the South African Communist Party (SACP).

The Independent was told that the police had started deploying officers to Beitbridge to quell any unrest when Cosatu and its partner, human rights watchdog Amnesty International, attempt to blockade Zimbabwe’s lifeline on the frontier with main trading partner, South Africa.

Craven said yesterday: “We will be mobilising our sister unions to also express their anger with the worsening human rights situation in Zimbabwe. There will be demos outside all Zimbabwean embassies in the region. We are also mobilising other civic bodies to stage protests in Zimbabwe.”

Craven said following the rounding up and expulsion of a fact-finding mission by the Zimbabwean authorities in October, the labour body had decided to send another mission, this time led by Cosatu president Willie Madisha and the combative secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi.

Security agencies were racing to gather information on what the government alleges is the involvement of a foreign nation in the planned mass action. The government has said it will “brook no interference in our internal affairs”.

The JOC, consisting of the ministers of Defence, State Security and Home Affairs and also heads of the army, police, the secret service, the air force and prisons, has reportedly resolved to take decisive action against “malcontents and mischief makers” determined to cause lawlessness within the vicinity of the border post and in other parts of the country.

The ministers of Defence and State Security were not immediately available yesterday to comment on the plan as they were said to be “tied up with party business”.

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