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Public sector union leaders praised South African dock workers in Johannesburg this week after they refused to unload a ship carrying Chinese weapons headed for Zimbabwe.

Members of the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (SATAWU) refused to unload the deadly cargo when a “Ship of Shame”, as the Johannesburg Citizen called it, tried to empty its hold.

 Petrus Mashishi, president South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU), saluted the workers at a central executive meeting on April 22. He also criticized the anti-democratic actions surrounding the recent election in Zimbabwe.

“There are up to a million Zimbabweans now living in South Africa out of fear of their own government,” Mashishi told about 90 delegates at the meeting. “Many of them cannot find work and they live on the streets without any public services.”

“These arms were going to kill workers in Zimbabwe,” S’dumo Dlamini of the Council of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) told the meeting. The dock workers were “standing firm in defence of democracy.”

Dlamini was addressing the meeting as acting president, a recent move from his elected position of deputy president. He is a member of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU), which has long been associated with CUPE.

At the end of his comments, he announced that dock workers in Angola had also refused to unload the ship, then he got confirmation that the Chinese government had recalled it.

“All praise to SATAWU,” wrote Canadian journalist Gwynne Dyer in The Citizen, noting that the dock workers gave the courts long enough “to issue a judgment refusing to let the weapons be shipped to Zimbabwe, despite the SA government’s unwillingness to intervene.”

“It is a true example of international labour solidarity,” said a SAMWU staff member during the meeting.