Churches praise African unions refusal to unload arms for Zimbabwe

 Churches and human rights groups have praised trade unions in several African countries for refusing to unload a massive shipment of arms, destined for Zimbabwe, aboard the Chinese ship, the 'An Yue Jiang'. The shipment was ordered three days after the Zimbabwean elections. On Friday, members of the South African Transport and Allied workers union refused to offload the weapons from the ship in Durban. A legal challenge was made and accepted by the South African High Court which ruled that the cargo could not be transported overland through South Africa. Zimbabwean trade union leader Lovemore Matombo said: "The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions has been greatly alarmed at the discovery of the arms cache and says no to the delivery of the arms of war as the country is not at war." On Monday, trade unions representing dock workers in Mozambique, Angola, Tanzania and Namibia followed the South African lead by stating that they would not unload the arms should the ship attempt to dock in their territory. The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) is mobilising its affiliate unions in southern Africa to stop the arms transfer. ITF General Secretary David Cockroft said: "The ITF, our member trade unions and the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) are doing everything we consider necessary to stop this dangerous and destabilising shipment reaching Zimbabwe. We will continue to do so, we hope with the support of the regions' governments, but without them if necessary. This material must not reach Zimbabwe, a country whose people are crying out for food and freedom, not bullets." Tony Dykes, Director of Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) said: "Ordering such a large quantity of arms immediately after the elections increases fear. If these arms arrive they could contribute to greater violence and intimidation. The solidarity being shown by workers in southern African countries with their colleagues in Zimbabwe is admirable and we congratulate them on their stand. We are calling on China and indeed all countries not to supply nor facilitate arms to Zimbabwe at this time." ACTSA yesterday launched a campaign calling on the Chinese government to stop the shipment of arms to Zimbabwe and adhere to the South African court ruling which will prevent any transfer of arms through its territory. ACTSA is also supporting a petition by the International Action Network on Small Arms to call on southern African governments to stop the consignment and to impound the arms in order that they do not find another way into Zimbabwe. Speaking on behalf of the Southern African Bishops Conference, Cardinal Napier OFM, said: "On behalf of the Catholic Community in Southern Africa, I call on the South Africa government not to allow any more arms and munitions to enter Zimbabwe through South Africa until an acceptable solution is found to the present situation. The deepening crisis and escalating violence in Zimbabwe compels us to repeat our call for immediate international intervention by a competent and objective mediator such as Kofi Annan. Failure of the international community to act immediately condemns the Zimbabwean people to on-going insecurity and suffering." A priest in Harare said: "We are grateful to the bishops for showing their concern about Zimbabwe. It was good that Cardinal Napier supported the dockers..... I happen to know that many of the dockers are migrant workers, indeed quite a few come from Zimbabwe. The work is tough round the clock, and the locals are not so keen on it." Another church spokesperson told ICN: "Ordinary workers have taken the lead where politicians have failed. Its very important that these weapons don't reach Zimbabwe. The country is at risk of genocide." Sources: ACTSA/SABC/correspondents

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