Only about 100 out of an estimated 200 000 civil servants turned up for the planned demonstration against Finance minister Tendai Biti in the capital yesterday.
The demo had been cleared by police who gave the civil servants the green light to proceed with the street protests.
The government workers sought to protest, through street marching, against Biti’s failure to address their salary grievances in his recent Mid-Term Budget Review.
The poor turnout prompted the civil servants’ leader Tendai Chikowore to suggest cancellation of the demonstration, but a handful of the protesters insisted they march to the minister’s offices to hand him their petition.
“We should have a muscle (big numbers) because without that, we are doomed to fail. We should look beyond and see the repercussions of a handful march,” Chikowore suggested.
Other leaders, including Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary-general Raymond Majongwe, however, dismissed the suggestion and insisted the protest proceed.
They attacked civil servants for failing to turn up for the demonstration, which they said was bound to bring them money while they patronised, in large numbers, church services, musical shows and beer halls.
“Don’t worry about these people who don’t want money (fellow civil servants who snubbed the protest march). People go to (Prophet Emmanuel) Makandiwa for salvation, people go to Alick Macheso for fun and to clubs to look for prostitutes, but refuse to come here. When it comes to their lives and pockets, they are afraid,” Majongwe said.
Chikowore joined in the attack on the civil servants whom she described as cowards who were only good at accusing their leaders of doing nothing.
“It’s very difficult to lead cowards and people who don’t know that they have a problem,” she said.
After that, the group reached consensus and proceeded with the march to Biti’s office. They took off from Harare Gardens, escorted by a handful of police officers in one truck.
They proceeded up Julius Nyerere Way, crossed Sam Nujoma Avenue and into Central Avenue along which road the New Government Complex housing several government ministries, including Biti’s offices, are located.
Scores of civil servants who had chosen to remain at work could be seen peeping from their office windows. They appeared to out-number the protesters.
Chikowore and two workers’ representatives, accompanied by the police, went up to Biti’s 6th floor offices, but found the doors locked. The minister had travelled to Bulawayo for the burial of Welshman Ncube’s son Ntabiso.
The group eventually slipped the petition under Biti’s office doors. The petition was addressed to the Speaker of Parliament, Lovemore Moyo, Senate President Edna Madzongwe and Biti.
Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma received the two petitions on behalf of Moyo and Madzongwe.