ZCTU cautious about the current political situation in Zimbabwe

A police officer shoves Mugabe's portrait into a bin. Archive Photo by Chris Mahove

As Zimbabweans celebrated the end to Robert Mugabe’s 37 years of iron-fisted rule, which saw the country plunging from its Jewel of Africa status to basket case, the country’s largest labour body, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) chose to tread with caution.

Harare, Zimbabwe

As Zimbabweans celebrated the end to Robert Mugabe’s 37 years of iron-fisted rule, which saw the country plunging from its Jewel of Africa status to basket case, the country’s largest labour body, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) chose to tread with caution.

Mugabe was deposed following an army take-over of government which culminated in him being fired from the ruling Zanu PF. The 93-year-old leader resigned in the midst of an impeachment process, ending almost four decades of autocratic rule and the beginning of a new era in the country which has known no other leader since independence in 1980.

ZCTU President, Peter Mutasa said that the development in the country was welcome and ended a dark period of Mugabe’s intransigence and disregard for popular views and demands.

He said Mugabe and his family were abusing state power and he was failing to manage the economy.

But as long as the Zanu PF system remained entrenched, Mutasa warned, workers would continue to suffer similar effects of Mugabeism.

“We are very cautious in our optimism. We are very much aware that we have not achieved any meaningful transformation by the substitution of Mugabe with his long time protégé in the form of his Vice President,” he said.

The ZCTU General Council, the highest decision making body in between congress, he said, had resolved to support the military action that led to the resignation of Mugabe because the Mugabe regime had for a long time used the state apparatus to deny citizens their freedom to choose a president of their choice.

“Thus it is our considered view that the Mugabe government had lost legitimacy. As a result, the intervention of the army to depose an illegitimate establishment could not be regarded as illegal,” he said.

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He addded that the military should immediately return to their barracks and pave the way for civilian processes.

“The ZCTU believes in constitutionalism and rule of law. In this regard, the involvement of the army in civilian political contestations is always a source of concern to us. Our GC therefore took the view that in light of the polarization within the ruling party, the military intervention came as a necessary evil to avert a potential internal security threat,” he said.


People celebrate in Harare after Robert Mugabe resigns. Photo by Harare Photographer/GroundUp

Jokoniah Mawopa, the National Organizer of the Food Federation and Allied Workers Union of Zimbabwe (FFAWUZ) said the problem with Mugabe was that he confused the trade unions, especially the ZCTU, with opposition political parties.

“Mugabe seemed to deliberately confuse trade unionism with opposition politics and as such those in Zanu PF always viewed trade unions as an appendage of the MDC. This impacted negatively on the work of trade unions, especially on organising as workers feared joining union would invite political victimization,” he said.

As a result, he said, workers were forced to join the rival Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions, a creation of Zanu PF, to avoid victimization or to remain unorganised altogether.

Mawopa said the Mugabe regime used the Public Order and Security Act to muzzle trade unions through the police by denying them their right to organise and mobilise although it clearly exempts them.

He said he did not see any change coming soon unless institutional reforms were implemented, noting that the country was still stuck with the old machinery that Mugabe used to implement his anti-union policies.

The FFAWUZ organiser, who is also the ZCTU North Eastern Regional chairperson, said that relations between the ZCTU and Zanu PF had always been frosty

“The relationship has never been good since ZCTU started criticizing government/ Zanu PF policies dating back to 1985 when Zanu PF intended to introduce a one party state. Zanu PF and ZCTU as organisations don’t engage each other outside government business,” he said.

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Mawopa’s sentiments were echoed by Stephen Dhliwayo, the Deputy General Secretary of the National Union for the Metal and Allied Industries in Zimbabwe (NUMAIZ) who said the Mugabe regime led to the loss of jobs.

“Company closures and retrenchments led to failure by unions to meet their obligations as they have decimated our membership,” he said.

He said the removal of Mugabe would not result in any meaningful changes in the way the union organized membership.

“The ouster of Mugabe will not change anything in organizing of the union unless the incoming government changes the form, policy, and promotes working class ideology,” he said.

He said there was no progressive relationship between Zanu PF and the ZCTU as they were pursuing different ideologies.

“The change of leadership is only a result of intra-ideological fights within their bourgeois class which is far from addressing working class needs,” he said.

Labour expert, Basil Makururu, said he doesn’t foresee the new administration benefiting trade unions in Zimbabwe because the new president had not assumed office through orthodox means.

“He is likely to use the same military that thrust him into power to consolidate his power in Zanu PF and most importantly, he will concentrate on campaigning during the short period before elections,” he said.

He said relations between Zanu PF and ZCTU had been strained since the days of Tsvangirai as the leader of the union when he sought to fight for workers’ rights.

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