The use of disproportionate force against trade union protestors and striking workers was a depressingly common occurrence in Africa during the year. Eight trade unionists had to be hospitalised after police in South Africa intervened to break up a demonstration in solidarity with Swazi workers. In another incident four workers were hospitalised after Cape Town police opened fire on striking newspaper employees. A further ten protesting municipal employees were injured by rubber bullets in Ekurhuleni. In Chad 11 former pipeline workers were injured when police wielding batons attacked a protest to demand the payment of overtime worked. Police in Kenya fired tear gas and fought running battles with striking flower workers, leaving several injured. In Morocco police violence left one worker dead and several injured after a march by municipal workers to protest against anti-union repression.
Mass dismissals in retaliation for strike action was another recurring feature. In Kenya over 1,000 workers on a flower plantation were dismissed after going on strike over workplace injuries and discrimination. Also in Kenya, 28 striking tea workers were dismissed and 50 university lecturers were either sacked or suspended for strike action. In Morocco, 486, mostly women, workers were dismissed after taking part in industrial action in protest at discrimination against union members. Mass dismissals were also reported at a diamond mine in Botswana and on a road building project in Cameroon.
Frequently the justification for these dismissals was that the strike was illegal. Indeed in many countries the law imposes such complex procedures that organising legal strike action is almost impossible. Cases in point include Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho. Mauritania, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia.
Carrying out trade union activities became increasingly perilous in Guinea where some of the worst violations occurred during the year. In common with all too many other countries, independent trade unions are viewed as opponents of the government. Trade union leaders and activists faced death threats, stalking, police violence and even murder. When the country’s two largest trade union confederations organised two nationwide strikes, security forces responded with excessive violence, leaving many injured and, according to credible reports, over 20 dead. The police themselves admitted to at least 11 deaths. Just before the June national strike, a Minister of State reportedly made death threats against three union leaders.
In Zimbabwe the Mugabe regime continued its brutal repression of trade union rights. When the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) organised a protest on 13 September the regime took pre-emptive action. Access routes to the march were blocked, union leaders were detained and interrogated and union offices were blockaded or sealed. During the protests, some 265 arrests were made and 31 ZCTU activists later faced trial on public order charges. Fifteen people were assaulted while in police custody. The ZCTU’s President, Lovemore Matombo, General Secretary, Wellington Chibebe, and First Vice-President Lucia Matibenga, were so severely beaten that they could not walk afterwards, and the clothes of both men were soaked in blood.
The long list of trade union rights violations continued in Djibouti. The national centre’s mail was intercepted and union leaders were repeatedly harassed and arrested, to the point that Hassan Cher Hared, the International Relations Secretary of the national trade union centre the UDT, finally left the country for fear of his life.
Women trade unionists on the continent suffered their share of repression. Ten women textile workers in Morocco stood trial for organising a strike, and four of them were held in preventive detention. In Mauritius, women workers taking part in a sit-in at a textile factory were beaten by police armed with truncheons.
Public sector workers faced the continued suppression of their trade union rights in both law and practice. In Lesotho public sector workers still do not have the right to form unions. In Algeria, a delegation from the global union federation Public Services International found evidence of continuing and constant legal and administrative action against public sector trade union leaders and members. Public service unions in Benin are still a target for harassment, while the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association continued to face government intimidation. Three of its leaders were arrested in December, and when they appeared in court they clearly showed signs of torture.
Finally, there is still no real freedom of association in Egypt, Libya or Sudan, where the law imposes a single trade union system, while in Equatorial Guinea the dictatorship is so absolute there is no space for the exercise of trade union rights.