Posted on October 2, 2010


“They seem to have won. They claim to have won, but still the beatings continue.” That was the bitter reaction yesterday of a Zimbabwean trade unionist in Harare.

He and several of his fellows also bewailed the fact that the contribution and suffering of the labour movement tends to be ignored. They argued, with justification, that the issues and the positions of the various parties in the conflict in Zimbabwe have become confused in the public mind.

Although not widely publicised, it is certainly true that the trade unions and their members have been among the greatest losers in the repression and violence across the Limpopo. They have also provided much of the impetus and policy direction for the opposition, quite apart from playing the key role in establishing the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The Professional Teachers’ Union (PTUZ) has been particularly targeted in recent months. Union research reveals nearly 5 000 teachers claim to have been assaulted with 600 hospitalised as a result of beatings. At least 230 homes belonging to teachers have also been burned down.
The general secretary of the PTUZ, Raymond Majongwe, who has twice in the past suffered beatings and electric shock torture, was yesterday reported missing. On Wednesday afternoon a group of men raided his Harare home. “We don’t think they found him, but we don’t know what has happened to him,” a union official says.

PTUZ treasurer Lad Zunde was also not home when a group of men arrived on Wednesday evening to say they had called to “take him to a funeral”.
However, the persecution of the unions is no recent phenomenon. The ZCTU and most of its affiliates have been prime targets of the state ever since Morgan Tsvangirai, as general secretary of the ZCTU, led the federation on an independent course from and, ultimately into, collision with the Zanu-PF government.

“Yet we were fighting the very things Mugabe now claims to be opposing,” says a ZCTU official. The unions, which were initially linked to the ruling party, opposed the liberal economic policies pursued by President Robert Mugabe and his government on the advice of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

In 1996, at the same time that the trade union federations in South Africa were drafting their alternative economic policy proposals, the ZCTU produced a 109-page “Beyond ESAP (Economic Structural Adjustment Programme)” document.
Like the South African labour movement’s Social Equity and Job Creation document, Beyond ESAP presents much more thoroughly considered policy positions than anything put forward by government. But the ZCTU also drew on the experience of South Africa’s Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) which, at that stage, had not yet given way to the liberal vision of GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution).

Beyond ESAP argued for the establishment of a tripartite — labour, business and government — forum such as the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) to consider and confirm government policies. But it also demanded that “land redistribution should be given the highest priority” at a time when the Mugabe government was doing little about redistributing land.

The MDC has maintained this position, both on a “Nedlac-type” forum and on land redistribution. “There is no question of returning land to anybody,” Tsvangirai said in a interview last week with the local Amandla magazine. But he had no specific policy.
However, among the remnants of perhaps the most battered of all the Zimbabwe unions, the agriculture and plantation workers, there is now a demand for the establishment of farm worker co-operatives.

“But we first have to survive before we can talk about that,” says a co-op supporter.

Posted in: Archive - 2008