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In recognition of his courage, sacrifice and leadership, we are honored to present the 2003 George Meany‑Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award to Brother Wellington Chibebe, Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), on behalf of the Zimbabwean Trade Union movement. Brother Chibebe and the ZCTU are active advocates for workers’ rights and social and economic justice in a nation stricken by political repression, economic violence and social isolation.
Zimbabwe's trade unions have been staunch advocates for peace, human and workers’ rights and economic justice in a nation affected by disappearing democratic space, increasing state-affirmed intimidation and violence, rising economic paralysis and narrowing adherence to the rule of law. Brother Wellington Chibebe and the Zimbabwe trade union movement have led the resistance to these archaean policies imposed by the government, risking their lives in defense of the ideals of the nation. Acting through the trade union structures, the court system, the churches, civil society organizations, and when necessary political parties, Zimbabweans—led by the ZCTU-have joined together demanding their rights. Speaking out at rallies and meetings, or through the independent media, they have faced harassment, detention, torture and murder at the hands of a brutal system of state repression.
Brother Chibebe and the ZCTU have paid a heavy price for this advocacy. Many brave Zimbabwean trade union activists have spoken out against the violence, corruption and mismanagement of a government that has forgotten how and why it rose to power. Some have been imprisoned, others have been tortured and murdered. Many have been forced into exile out of fear for their lives or the need to continue to feed their children. Of the remaining workers who stayed behind in Zimbabwe, over 400,000 have lost their jobs, had their freedoms curtailed, their economic opportunities have been squandered and their families have been put at risk. These brave women and men serve as witnesses to a revolution betrayed by some of its own authors. Their heroic struggle is not about foreign values or foreign interests; it is about their dream of a Zimbabwe that reflects the highest ideals of both traditional and modern Africa.
Zimbabwe is in a state of crisis today because those who govern the country have systematically undermined the rule of law. Through their actions—President Robert Mugabe and his colleagues in the Zimbabwe African National Union‑Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party—have placed themselves above the law, abandoning their role as the defenders of liberty in service of the people they championed during the liberation struggle.
Wellington Chibebe is the Secretary General of the ZCTU, Zimbabwe’s largest labor federation, representing over 1.3 million workers. Brother Chibebe was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. He went to work for the Zimbabwean railways company and was elected to lead the ZCTU in 2002.
Chibebe’s clear and consistent advocacy of civil rights, bolstered by workers’ voices, made him a target of attacks from both government forces, police officers, the ZANU‑PF youth brigade and so the called “war veterans.” Although left with shattered hearing due to a brutal beating by police officers for representing workers’ interests, Brother Chibebe remains a zealous advocate for fundamental fairness and workers’ rights.
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