Mugabe attacks follow funeral

April 4, 2003

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe used the funeral of the late minister of higher education to order the police and military to crush political opposition to his ruling Zanu-PF party - unleashing a wave of violence and the arrest of hundreds of activists, including students, last week.

Minister Swithun Mombeshora, 58, who was in dispute with striking lecturers over pay and conditions, died unexpectedly at his home in Harare last month. After being declared a national hero he was buried at the National Heroes Acre in the capital Harare on March 21.

The state-owned Herald newspaper reported Mr Mugabe as saying that Zimbabwe's highest honour had been conferred on Dr Mombeshora for his quality work as a Zanu-PF cadre and government minister, and for his support during the liberation struggle.

But the 79-year-old president used the occasion of Dr Mombeshora's funeral to launch a scathing attack on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which orchestrated a successful two-day strike that recently closed down Zimbabwe's economy.

The MDC is demanding a return to democracy and the rule of law, and an end to the systematic beating, harassment, rape, torture and arrest of its supporters by the police and military.

Mr Mugabe's response at Dr Mombeshora's funeral was to call on state security forces to punish the opposition.

"Let the MDC and its leaders be warned that those who play with fire will not only be burnt, but consumed by that fire. Read us correctly," he said.

In the days that followed, more than 500 MDC activists were arrested, more than 250 beaten - including a member of parliament - and at least one was killed.

For public sector academics, Dr Mombeshora's untimely death is likely to drag out further a strike over salaries that began in October and has closed down Zimbabwe's two primary institutions, the University of Zimbabwe in Harare and the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo.

Students were sent home by UZ last month, and last week its council reportedly threatened striking academics with suspension unless they signed letters agreeing to end their action by this week.

"We unanimously agreed not to sign," James Mahlaule, Association of University Lecturers acting chair, told The THES.

The lecturers are reporting to work but refusing to teach in protest against the government's refusal to grant them a "retention allowance" worth 50 per cent of current salaries, which they say will begin to make their pay packets cover living costs and will ease the mass exodus of academics from the sector and the country.

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