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Workers block Zimbabwe arms ship

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Even as the Zimbabwe crisis worsens, an extraordinary solidarity movement has taken hold across Southern Africa--sparked by a South African dock workers' union that refused to unload a Chinese shipment of Zimbabwe-bound weapons.[1]

Their refusal to facilitate Zimbabwe's crackdown has ignited a wildfire that is spreading across the continent. Now, as pressure builds, China is publicly wavering--and might decide to bring the arms home.[2] Click below to sign a petition to keep arms away from Zimbabwe. The petition will be launched at a press conference in Johannesburg before the end of this week, and used to lobby key leaders until the crisis ends. Join the call now:


Three weeks on, the results of the March 29 elections have still not been released, and Zimbabwe's crisis is getting worse. Mugabe's government has unleashed a brutal campaign to retain power. The opposition says that ten have died, and hundreds have been injured; now, a "human wave" of refugees is fleeing to South Africa and other neighbouring countries.[3]

But even as the political emergency deepens, an African-led upswell of resistance has begun to turn the tide. In the last ten days:

  • More than 150,000 Avaaz members worldwide signed the petition for democracy in Zimbabwe, including citizens of 53 of Africa's 54 countries. The goal: prod South Africa's president Mbeki to pressure Mugabe. To make sure the message got through, Avaaz hired a small plane to fly a 280 square metre (3000 sq ft) banner over the United Nations.[4] The next day, amidst pressure from other governments and worldwide media coverage of the Avaaz stunt, South Africa finally shifted its position on Zimbabwe.[5]
  • Last week, a Chinese ship carrying 77 tonnes of Zimbabwe-bound weapons and ammunition docked in Durban, South Africa--but, refusing to aid Mugabe's crackdown, the dockworkers refused to unload it. Unions, churches, and legal groups throughout Southern Africa quickly mobilized; the ship was forced to leave the harbour, and other ports in the region are vowing to block the weapons as well.[6]
  • As the grassroots outcry has grown, political officials have begun to press their case. Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa urged other African leaders not to allow the weapons to reach Zimbabwe.[7] United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and former UNSG Kofi Annan have called for democracy. And more and more other leaders in Africa and worldwide are joining in.

The Chinese arms ship is now sailing up the Western coast of Africa. Union officials tell Avaaz that it could stop in Namibia to refuel, but is probably headed towards Angola.[8] Time is short. A strong international outcry now can help support the groups in both countries--dockworkers, NGOs, and church leaders--who are working to block the weapons and support Zimbabwean human rights.

There is more at stake here than the weapons in this ship. Together, we can build a consensus that Zimbabwe should not be sold ANY weapons in this time of crisis--and in the longer term, we can build momentum for a strong international Arms Trade Treaty[9]. Moreover, stopping the flow of weapons provides a concrete, immediate step that leaders in the region can take on Zimbabwe--paving the way for stronger actions in coming days and weeks.

Add your name to the petition, and then send this link to friends and family:


The situation in Zimbabwe is dire. But because of people power--the courage of ordinary workers and community members, standing on principle--the political currents are shifting, and hope is emerging for change. And in the global media, a new strain can be heard amidst the grinding stories of brutality and chaos.

This crisis has many layers, and raises issues that range from the legacy of colonialism to the uncontrolled international arms trade. At the heart of it is the simple idea that every human life is equally precious, and that every person has rights. The people of Zimbabwe took their stand in the voting booth. The dockworkers of South Africa took their stand at the harbour. Now, even if we can only offer a click, it is time to do our part as well.

With hope,

Ben, Ricken, Graziela, Galit, Paul, Iain, Pascal, and Veronique--the Avaaz.org team


  1. Business Day: "South Africa: Unions Bid to Halt Zimbabwe Arms Ship." http://allafrica.com/stories/200804220109.html
  2. New York Times: "China Says Shipment of Arms for Zimbabwe May Turn Back." http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/world/africa/23zimbabwe.html?_r=2&hp&oref=slogin&oref=slogin
  3. New York Times: "Human Wave Flees Violence in Zimbabwe." http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/21/world/africa/21zimbabwe.html?ex=1366516800&en=0378560da461b30a&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss
  4. SW Radio Africa: "Mbeki put under pressure at the UN over Zimbabwe" http://www.swradioafrica.com/news170408/mbekipressure170408.htm
  5. Globe and Mail: "South African leader forced to speak up after long keeping quiet on Mugabe." http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20080418.ZIMBABWEANALYSIS18/TPStory/TPInternational/Africa
  6. Associated Press: "Zimbabwe's neighbors unite to block arms shipment" http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5i4kT7pJlnuzY_vpKdTACcQYIPcvQD9077G780
  7. Reuters: "Zambia asks African states to bar Chinese ship" http://africa.reuters.com/wire/news/usnBAN223066.html
  8. Ibid.
  9. See http://controlarms.org.



                                               Look at the flowers

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