13 Sep 2022
Fellow workers of Zimbabwe, once again the ZCTU welcomes you to the commemorations of September 13, a day we set aside to remember our struggles for trade union rights and the police brutality perpetrated against unionists over the years by a system threatened by an independent and class conscious working class.
Lest we forget, this commemoration has been held since 2007, in honour of the fearless trade unionists that had been victimized over the years, highlighted by the unfortunate brutal incident of September 13 2006 when police tortured and brutalized 147 unionists country-wide leaving some of them with permanent injuries. Over the years we have lost our Former President Cde Lovemore Matombo, former Vice President Rwatipedza Chigwagwa, Moses Ngondo and Tonderai Nyahunzvi, who were subjected to the worst horrors of police brutality. May their souls rest in peace.
Back then our demand was for workers to earn Poverty Datum Line (PDL) linked wages, Government’s commitment to fight inflation, free distribution of anti-retroviral drugs, a stop in the implementation of the compulsory National Health Insurance Scheme that was to be administered by the National Social Security Authority (NSSA). Some of these demands remain relevant today. Workers are still earning below the PDL, inflation is ravaging earnings while workers are taxed to the core. The social security situation in Zimbabwe is pathetic and the echoes of 2006 are still ringing in our ears, etched in our memories and remain a reality to this day.
As we commemorate this day most workers’ earnings are not enough for monthly basic needs for an average family. According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe the low-income urban earner monthly budget for a family of six for the month of August stood at USD 507.67 using the interbank rate or ZWL277,625.29. These figures are way above the average monthly wage.
The situation has not improved over the years; physical confrontation is on the increase. This year, we have witnessed blatant victimization of trade union leaders by the National Railways of Zimbabwe. 21 union leaders including Presidents and General secretaries of our affiliates had their contracts terminated simply for pressing for remuneration and conditions of work. We are also witnessing a rise in violence and harassment against journalists by political party functionaries. The Gokwe and Chinhoyi incidences where Zanu-PF and CCC functionaries respectively brutalized journalists on duty are worrisome given that we are going towards an election.
The arrest of the ZCTU leadership in 2018 and 2019 and subsequent arrests of ARTUZ leadership fighting for teachers welfare is cause for concern. In the past two years we have observed an escalation in the victimization of workers who engage in job actions. Of note were the nurses who were fired, teachers who had their salaries docked and the dismissal of Cde Robert Chiduku, the president of the Zimbabwe Professionals Nurses Union allegedly for holding a union meeting at the employer’s premises during working hours. All these are violations that require our voices. Our silence means we are going back to the pre 2006 era where we endured systematic interruptions and disturbances on our activities with the police refusing to sanction our activities leaving us with no options but to approach the courts for redress.
The political situation is fertile for trade union violations and we must guard and defend our turf. We are less than a year to next year’s general elections. Freedom of assembly and the right to organize would surely be curtailed. The politicization of trade union activities, we must expect; and be prepared to defend. The heavy handedness of the previous regime is not over. As we celebrate this day lets be conscious that we are entering into a hard hat era until the elections are over. Our work creates friction with the establishment but we are not moved, infact it gives us strength. We remain focused on our goals and important role that we have of the democratization of Zimbabwe. Our quest to unite the labour movement and the working class coupled with our history of internal democracy, transparency, and accountability has earned us the tag - enemy of the authorities.
The regime of yesteryear had no respect for fundamental human and trade union rights, as evidenced by the 2006 ‘Presidential assent’ to the brutality on workers whom the authority deemed to be challenging the system by merely raising sensible demands.
The presidency gave a green light to the brutality by challenging workers to dare the system and the results were more than shocking. President Robert Mugabe told those that were gathered at the Zimbabwe Mission in Cairo that:
“If you want an excuse for being killed, be my guest go into the streets and demonstrate. The police were right in dealing sternly with Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions leaders during their demonstration….because the trade unionists want to become a law unto themselves. We cannot have a situation where people decide to sit in places not allowed and when the police remove them, they say no. We can’t have that, that is a revolt to the system. Vamwe vaakuchema kuti tarohwa, ehe unodashurwa. When the police say move, move. If you don’t move, you invite the police to use force”.
That was the highest point of intolerance. However, we hear the same message echoing from the high offices when it comes to demonstrations and strikes. This is not the time to relax. We could be in worse murky waters than before.
In that regard we pursue all means to have our voice and demands heard. We are not limited to social dialogue, our right to strike and demonstrates remains an option.
We are faced with brutality from several fronts. The repressive state apparatus has joined hands with the government and capitalists to annihilate the proletariat. Judicial activism has seen the courts conniving with government and employers. This has become the hypersonic weapon to deal with ‘troublesome’ workers in the absence of baton sticks and tear gas. We now need to build and capitalize on holistic solidarity and class consciousness if we are to defeat the neo-liberal capitalists’ agenda. Our significance is now hinged on our ability to rally our constituency to a common cause and effect synchronized responses to challenges.
As we commemorate this day let us not forget thousands of workers who suffered the epitome of judicial activism through the Zuva Judgment; or the ‘Chidyausiku Brutality’ of 17 July 2015 whose wounds shall never heal. The carnage of over 30000 workers might not bear visible scars but the labour movement paid a heavy price. Our enemy is capital and its willing tools; our duty to identify them and defend our class interests.
As workers we are also under siege from government and business connivance to frustrate progress at the Tripartite Negotiating Forum. That alone has a brutal bearing on our constituency. When social dialogue is locked everything grounds to a halt. Discussions around social security, the political environment and the macro economic environment yields barely nothing and the poor are the worst affected. The rise in the cost of living, high educational fees on the backdrop of low wages is a brutality on its own. The solution is a functional TNF and we shall push for sincerity from our social partners. Gone are the days when the TNF was a talkshow, with your support we can achieve productive social dialogue.
Let me conclude by highlighting that we might be in 2022 but the climate is still that of 2006. The bravery of 2006 must continue. Our demands and our voice remain the same. We will not be intimidated from making those demands by any forces until we achieve them.
Once again, thank you.
Shinga Mushandi Shinga, Qina Sisebenzi Qina