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Bikes, clothes and greeting cards

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I was disappointed to wake up on Tuesday 3 April, the first morning of the ZCTU two-day stay away, to find the traffic pretty much as heavy as normal for a workday. But, my optimism undeterred, I went out around 9am to see what was open and what was closed.

The night before, I had been speaking with some friends about the stay away. One woman asked, with over 80% unemployment, what is the point of a stay away, and how do you even support it if you’re not working. Another said, well, if you do have a job, or you vend or you work in the informal sector, you don’t go to work. And you don’t support those who are open – you stay away from the shops and the cafes and the beer halls. We discussed how powerful it was as an opportunity to exercise individual power and decision making. We discussed how, if you really wanted to stand in solidarity with the ZCTU in this action, you could choose to personally boycott all shops which had been open during the stay away – in protest of their lack of support for the action.

The good news is, if I took this approach on board, I could still get my bicycle fixed, I could buy some new clothes, and I could get some greeting cards and stationery. The bad news is, that’s about it. I would have to pull my money out of the banking system entirely; all the banks were open. I wouldn’t be able to go to the supermarket – TM and Bon Marche were both open. I would have to boycott music shops, the hardware store, the video shop, the pub, the food court and all cafes. That’s right. In the shopping centre nearest where I stay, exactly three shops were closed.

Apparently, in the industrial sites where workers are more formally unionised, the stay away has done better, with more factories and businesses closed there. I am surprised, though, at how little people are even talking about it in town and in the suburbs. At one house, the domestic worker was off – she’d heard about the stay away and decided to stay at home. But the gardener was on duty. He said he hadn’t heard about it. Working on the same property, they weren’t even talking to one another about it.

As the arrests and harassment and abductions and police brutality increase, this is one of my biggest fears – the ways in which we take on the role of our own oppressor – censoring ourselves, moving out the way of the oncoming police car without even being asked, going to work not because we’ve directly been intimidated but because we’re scared we might be.

Like Alice Walker said: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

One comment to “Bikes, clothes and greeting cards”

  1. Comment by Phil Bateman:

    Its understandable that there is fear about staying away from work in a place that is so thread bare of law and order. President Mugabe is an old man living in his position because he has a violent machine that owes it all to him to keep the whole sorry lot a float!

    With 80% of the Country without work. Now is the time to place even more personal sanctions on his crooked empire.

    It is sad that South Africa and the SADC are not brave enough to criticise one of their heroes of the Revolution. Sadly their silence only draws concerns from free folk in the West. Concern grows about what kind of World Cup the continent will be able to host? When a Country right next door is having its peoples life stifled by complicit inaction.