The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) faces imminent collapse amid allegations the newly elected leadership has been captured by the ruling ZANU PF.
All has not been well in Zimbabwe’s biggest labour federation since the election last October of Florence Taruvinga as president. Taruvinga, who became the first ever ZCTU female president, was elected under controversial circumstances in which she was accused of leading a faction aligned to the ruling party and funded to oust Peter Mutasa, who the government viewed as a threat.
There are now louder calls for the formation of an alternative labour body free from political control of the government and the ruling party.
But things came to a head last week when the ZCTU secretary general, Japhet Moyo, in an interview on South Africa’s SABC, superficially absolved the ZANU PF government of having contributed to the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy. Moyo’s critics were especially riled by his assertion that migration is a global issue and not one that plagues Zimbabwe alone, and that the country’s unemployment rate stands at 19%, when in actual fact, it is a staggering 90%.
Barbara Gwangwara, a former president of the Commercial Workers Union of Zimbabwe (CWUZ), said the ZCTU had been captured by the ZANU PF regime, adding that workers are now on their own.
She said it is clear that the labour body’s leadership is now dining with those who are oppressing workers. “The interview by Japhet Moyo was a betrayal of workers. Being the spokesperson for the suffering workers who are earning salaries that are far below the PDL [poverty datum line] it was disastrous to defend the abusive government which does not care about the wellbeing of its workforce,” she said.
Gwangwara said it was unfortunate that the ZCTU leadership has betrayed the workers, adding that they should rise and reclaim their space. “The only language that an oppressor understands is defiance. ZCTU is the workers, not leadership,” she said.
Labour activist, Gilbert Marembo weighed in, saying it was shocking that a ZCTU secretary general could speak like a government or ZANU PF spokesperson. “The ZCTU and its affiliates are captured. The future of workers in Zimbabwe is bleak. Workers have been betrayed to say the least; how does a ZCTU No 1 employee say we have 19% unemployment in Zimbabwe? It’s shocking,” he said.
People celebrate in Harare after Robert Mugabe resigned in 2017. Photo by Harare photographer/GroundUp
An ‘apolitical’ ZCTU
The immediate past ZCTU president who is now chairperson of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Peter Mutasa, said Moyo’s hands are tied since he, as head of the secretariat, does not formulate policies, adding that his role is only to implement and communicate the policies and strategic direction of the organisation as directed by the leadership.
“It is known that the current leaders advocated for the ZCTU to be apolitical. This was not properly defined and there is confusion whether this entails withdrawal from political participation. However, from the pronouncements so far, this seems to mean coalescing with the government. Sadly, from the look of things and the various pronouncements by ZCTU officials, it sounds as if the leaders have been coopted,” he said.
Most problems faced by workers, Mutasa said, are caused by the government through its political decisions, making confrontation between the government and labour inevitable unless the trade unions are coopted. “ZANU PF even referred to its relationship with the current ZCTU as that of Siamese twins. This is quite telling and the recent statements strengthen the view that the federation has been fully coopted and captured. This is bad for workers who have always had voice through an independent ZCTU,” he said.
Mutasa said the ZCTU leaders must urgently redeem themselves in word and deed for them to reclaim the lost trust.
Sympathy for secretary general Moyo
Other trade unionists took to social media to defend Moyo, saying he was a victim of the fissures that already exist within the federation. “We are our own enemies; let’s not blame Japhet because he is alone and feels neglected and that is why he has decided to spoil the party; it’s a normal Zimbabwean behaviour. It is out of frustration,” said one unionist.
Another unionist who spoke on condition of anonymity said Moyo was under pressure from the recently elected executive led by Florence Taruvinga, which forced him to toe their line, adding that the new leadership had been assisted by the government and ruling party to take over the largest labour federation so it could push the ruling party agenda.
“The man is insecure as there is already an axe hanging above his head. He must be desperate to keep his job because I understand the new executive actually wanted to see his back as soon as possible,” said the unionist.
Unions are now threatening to pull out of the labour body saying it has ceased to represent their interests, and that Moyo’s sentiments were not reflective of the position of the general council.
They questioned why the secretary general failed to criticise the government for the economic collapse, adding that unions risk losing membership because of Moyo’s ‘reckless’ statements.
Others are now demanding a special general council meeting to deal with the matter, saying in the event that the general council, which is the highest decision-making body outside of congress, endorses Moyo’s statements, then unions should take a position.
Both Moyo and Taruvinga’s mobile phones were not reachable at the time publication.