Zimbabwe News Online (19) - 4/27/98

Zimbabwe News Online (19) - 4/27/98


Edition #19 27 April 1998

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In this edition:


Trade unionism in the SADC region

The history of trade unions in Southern Africa dates back to the colonial days when blacks were forced to fight against abuses of the colonial administrators. Trade unionism in many cases ended up blossoming into outright political activity and the fight for independence. As a result, at independence trade unions in most countries were closely allied to the government and the ruling party. However, this scenario was short-lived as trade unions started criticizing the new governments for poor planning, corruption and nepotism.

In reaction, many trade unions were dissolved and their leaders detained or even killed. According to the ILO, there have been probably more African trade unionists put in jail, driven into exile or even killed in independent Africa than was the case during the colonial era.

Despite these difficulties, trade union membership in Africa has generally increased over the years. As a result of membership to international groupings such as the United Nations, even those governments which would have banned trade unions outright, were forced to adopt policies which allowed trade unions to exist, although in some cases under tightly controlled situations.

When Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) was formed it initially did not have a subsector on employment and labour. All it had was the Human Resources Development sector.

However, the SADC Treaty states as one of its major objectives that SADC would promote and maximize productive employment and utilization of resources in the region. It also states that SADC shall develop policies aimed at the progressive elimination of obstacles to free movement of capital and labour, goods and services and of peoples of the region among member states, and would promote the development of its human resources.

The above objective is the root and foundation to the establishment of the SADC Employment and Labour Sector Co-ordinating Unit. Furthermore, the formation of this unit was enhanced by the refusal of an independent body from SADC, the Southern African Labour Commission (SALC) to carry out certain objectives which SADC countries thought were important. Among these were the co-ordinating and harmonising of terms and conditions of service of non-national employees from within the SADC region and the standardisation of social security schemes.

When the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the International Labour Organisation discontinued their support for the Southern African Labour Commission, it was crippled. In January 1995, at a meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi, the SADC Council decided to create the Employment and Labour Sector Co-ordinating Unit which was to function under the Human Resources Development Sector. The Council agreed that the new subsector would have a tripartite structure of government, employers and trade union participation.

The unit is based in Zambia and comprises ministers responsible for SADC issues on employment and labour, chief executives of employers' organisations and chief executives of labour movements. It conducts all its business in accordance with the rules governing all SADC institutions.

Among its major objectives is to safeguard and promote the respect for basic workers' rightssuch as freedom of association and the right to organise and bargain collectively, and the promotion of sound labour relations based on tripartite co-operation. It puts stress on the application of occupational health and safety standards and the improvement of working conditions. The unit also promotes the formulation and integration of legal, economic and social policies and programmes in member states which contribute to the generation of productive employment opportunities and income.

While the 1990s have seen the fall of authoritarian regimes all over Southern Africa, this does not automatically mean democratisation of the economy. Equally, the right to vote does not bring with it workers' rights.

Thus trade unions in Southern Africa are confronted with a mammoth task in trying to achieve the goals set by the SADC Employment and Labour Sector Co-ordinating Unit. Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) which have been introduced, aimed at restoring macro-economic balance and controlling inflation and public deficits have resulted in thousands of people losing their jobs, worsening the already bad unemployment situation.

Deregulation of prices has seen the prices of basic food commodities shooting up beyond the reach of workers' wages, resulting in the majority of workers in most countries living below the poverty datum line.

Under the new dispensation, trade unions are under tremendous pressure from their governments to show national responsibility as the economies go through SAPs. Unions all over the region are meeting dilemmas concerning the balance line between member interests on the one hand and national interests on the other. There are dilemmas between wage demands on one hand and employment security and productivity on the other hand.

While trade unions in Southern Africa differ in roots and history, they share a history of shortage of freedom of association, worker rights and a democratic framework under which to operate.

In Zimbabwe for example, while in theory there exists a tripartite structure, it is the government which sets the agenda for tripartite consultations. While the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe (EMCOZ) have a right to be consulted, the government has, and exercises the right to do as it pleases. The labour input and that of employers is limited and is not always taken seriously. According to the ILO office in Harare, the Zimbabwean government consults the parties only if it wishes. "The lack of formal consultation on subjects of labour relations, employment and labour inspection is remarkable."

The experience of many union federations in the region is that there is a wide gap between the laws and policies on tripartism on one hand and its practice on the other hand. However the success of labour will ultimately depend upon the degree to which they have loyalty and support amongst their own members and the political resources they possess.

The ZCTU has over the past three years been busy drawing up strategic planning for the short and long term future. Their strategic planning concerns goals such as improved communication, political influence, gender equality, improved trade union education, trade union unity, increased membership, self-sufficiency and the merging of smaller unions.

Since the first post-independence elections in 1985, the ZCTU has played an important role in national debate, challenging the one-party state system which the ruling party was so keen to establish, authoritarianism and corruption.

Fighting a government which uses repression to keep in power, the ZCTU against all odds last December organised a demonstration in Harare which forced the government to drop increases in fuel and electricity sucharges. Still it is fighting to have sales tax reduced from 17,5 percent to 15 percent and to have a five percent development levy dropped. The ZCTU also wants the recently introduced tax on pensions dropped and the government to check the price of basic food commodities which have been going up at an alarming rate since the beginning of last year.

The government has already ordered millers not to increase the price of mealie meal, a move which is likely to set it on a collision course with the IMF and the World Bank. Prices of cooking oil and bread which were scheduled to go up at the beginning of this month did not.

In March this year the ZCTU organised a successful nationwide two-day stayaway to force the government to drop the taxes, but the government did not budge although the stayaway is said to have cost the economy more than Z$700 million. Now serious tension exists between the government and the labour movement, with President Mugabe now calling the ZCTU an opposition party.

The ZCTU has since last month been holding meetings with its members throughout the country in an effort to map out a new strategy of confronting the government. It has also pulled out of the Economic Consultative Forum, accusing the government of not taking seriously contributions by the unions during the meetings of the forum. ZCTU Secretary General, Morgan Tsvangirayi, said attending the meetings was a complete waste of time since their recommendations were left to gather dust while government pursued what it thought was in its best interests.

The ZCTU has threatened more job actions to force the government to comply with its demands. The government is on the other hand in the process of introducing legislation which will make it extremely difficult for the ZCTU to operate. It is also sponsoring a splinter union federation to try and undermine the ZCTU.

However, gone are the days when Zimbabweans used to gullibly follow whatever the government said, and there is no doubt that the government is doomed to fail in its attempt to divide the workers. The majority of workers are clear about who their true leaders are, and will not fall into government's old tactic of divide and rule.

Meanwhile, citizens fed up by the government's maladministration of the economy have urged the ZCTU to transform itself into a political party and change the country's politics the Zambian way, where former trade unionist, Frederick Chiluba is now president.

In South Africa the National Economic, Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) was established by law in order for social partners to negotiate changes to labour law, macro-economic policies and development policies before government proposals go to Parliament for enactment. This is probably the most advanced system of tripartism in Southern Africa, and maybe one of the most institutionalised forms of collective negotiations and social dialogue practised in the world today.

In Namibia there is a tripartite body known as the Labour Advisory Council (LAC), with equal representation from the unions, employers and the state. LAC has wide ranging investigation and advisory functions, which include formulation of national policy regarding basic conditions of employment, job creation, vocational training, health and safety issues, the enactment of legislation and ratification of ILO Conventions.

In most of the region, however, labour is still struggling with the question of alliances or independence. In Namibia the National Union of Namibian Workers is affiliated to the ruling party,SWAPO, in South Africa COSATU is affiliated to the ANC and the Communist Party, while in Mozambique there is still a close relationship between the Trade Unions Federation (OTM) and Frelimo.

On the contrary, in Swaziland and Zambia, the alliances are between the labour movements and employers.

In Zambia which is now being led by a former trade unionist, President Chiluba, infighting , division andinternal conflicts characterizes the labour movement. The labour movement is actually being used as a tool for politicians. Following the Industrial and Labour Relations Act of 1993, more unions have emerged, some have split away from the mainstream unions while others have disaffiliated from the ZaCTU, making the labour movement more divided today than ever before.

The government's ratification of the ILO Convention (87) on the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise has also worsened the situation for the ZaCTU by contributing to divisionand weakening the union movement. The act of ratification has been seen as a signal of the government's intention to divide the labour movement and was not properly consulted with labour before hand. Tensions also exist within the labour movements in Lesotho and Swaziland.

While regional labour market issues are increasingly being set on the political agenda, and regional co-operation has grown stronger during the past few years, there is still some way to go in developingco-ordinated regional strategies in the face of common and interlocked challenges.

Employers and governments in the region are increasingly referring to unions as the labour aristocracy and to the need for labour to show wage restraints in order to get more people into work. Yet while labour is showing restraint and national responsibility, wages are at poverty levels and there are still millions without jobs. That in itself suggests that the solutions to economic developments and redistribution in the region do not mainly lye with the labour market, but first and foremost with the governments.


1.Government on the lookout for new jet for Mugabe

Zimbabwe's cash-strapped government is scouting for a US$33 million presidential jet to replace the current one which the president is said to be unhappy with.

According to a report carried by the weekly Zimbabwe Independent,the government is interested in acquiring an A319 longhaul jet to replace President Mugabe's current BAe146 which he is said not to like any more because of its short-haul nature. Zimbabwe's globe-trotting president is said to prefer an aircraft which can take him from Zimbabwe direct to London without having to refuel on the way.

News of the acquisition of the aircraft comes at a time when the international donor community is withholding financial support to Zimbabwe because of the country's profligacy. According to the Independent, top executives from European consortium Airbus Industries were in Harare two weeks ago to market their A319 jet to the Zimbabwe government.

It is understood that the aircraft to be purchased through the Ministry of Defence for the exclusive use of the president might occasionally be leased out to the national airline, Air Zimbabwe which is experiencing a shortage of aircraft following the recent retiring of one of its Boeing 707s.

The search for a new presidential jet which some top government officials are said to be unhappy about comes after reports that the presidential party's safety was nearly jeopardised on two recent occasions on Air Zimbabwe charters. The first occasion was in Ireland when the engine of an ageing Boeing 707 caught fire immediately after take-off, while the second was a problematic landing by a B737 at Maputo airport, Mozambique, last month.

2.UN human rights committee raps Zimbabwe

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has strongly criticised the Zimbabwe government in a review of the country's human rights record.

The committee, which focussed on gender discrimination, one-party dominance and excessive use of force expressed concern that the lack of political pluralism threatens the enjoyment of democracy. "Zimbabwe is a country with a serious democratic deficit," said Elizabeth Evatt, Australia's human rights commissioner and committee member.

The committee, a panel of 18 legal experts which reviews nations' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is worried that the ruling Zanu PF party receives a disproportionate part of public funds and holds all but three of the 150 parliamentary seats.

The Zimbabwe government was particularly taken to task over what the committee called recent reports of excessive use of force by the police and the army during food riots which rocked the country in January this year.

The committee also asked for an independent investigation into reports of excessive use of force by government agencies in Matabeleland and the Midlands provinces mostly inhabited by the country's roughly two million minority Ndebele tribe.

3.Government to abolish more than 30 000 civil service posts

The government of Zimbabwe, which is under immense pressure from the IMF and World Bank to reduce its expenditure, has announced that it will abolish 33 000 civil service posts as part of its second civil service reform exercise.

According to the Public Service Commission's public relations officer, Dennis Rwafa, 4 000 civil servants are expected to have been retrenched by September this year. Rwafa said the time frame of the target and the financing of the exercise was still to be agreed upon by the Ministry of Finance and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

During the first phase of the civil service reform programme which began in 1995 and ended in 1996, a total of 23 000 civil service posts were abolished, with most people taking voluntary early retirement. The civil service currently stands at 181 000.

4.Drama in parliament as MP threatens to beat up fellow MP

There was a mini drama in the Zimbabwe Parliament when a retired army general who is now a Member of Parliament had to be retrained from assaulting an independent MP who had remarked that the ruling party's MPs were all President Mugabe's wives.

Outspoken legislator, Margaret Dongo, the only independent MP, labelled all ZANU PF members of Parliament as Mugabe's wives saying they were scared of him and always pandered to his wishes.

In a feat of anger the retired general, Solomon Mujuru stood up in the house and charged towards Dongo, threatening to assault her. He was restrained by fellow legislators and Dongo had to be escorted home by security aides after Mujuru had threatened to "sort her out" after the parliamentary proceedings.

Before leaving the house Dongo remarked that Mike Tysons were not wanted in Parliament.

5.Ex-combatants push for more benefits

Zimbabwe's liberation war fighters, who last year were awarded lump sum gratuities of Z$50 000 and monthly pensions of Z$2 000 each after arm-twisting the government, are now pushing for more benefits which they say they are entitled to.

According to the chairman of the Zimbabwe Liberation War Veterans Association, Chenjerai Hunzvi, ex-combatants are also entitled to free education and health, land and interest free loans. He criticised the government for making false promises, saying the above benefits were only on paper and nothing else is being done to effect them.

6.Computerisation takes its toll on media workers

More than 100 workers out of a 400-strong workforce at the Harare branch of the state-controlled Zimbabwe Newspapers (Zimpapers) will be laid off over the next few months due to computerisation of the group's publications.

According to Zimpapers managing director, Matthew Kunaka, the company will embark on a Z$120 million computerisation programme which will result in the loss of jobs. Zimpapers, which publishes Zimbabwe's two and only daily newspapers, The Herald and The Chronicle has up to now used antiquated typewriters.

7.Low tobacco prices may cost Zimbabwe Z$2 billion

Zimbabwe may lose more than Z$2 billion in foreign currency this year if tobacco prices remain depressed, the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association has said.

Farmers had expected to earn about Z$9 billion through exports from 220 million kilogrammes of flue-cured tobacco, but the current slump in tobacco demand worldwide is likely to result in prices remaining low, throwing the country's agriculture-powered economy into a quandary. Tobacco is the country's number one foreign currency earner.

Explaining the predicament, industry officials last week said although they were optimistic that prices will firm up, they were unlikely to reach the desired levels. Prices have remained low at the auction floors, with average prices ranging between Z$19.57 and Z$23.72 a kilogramme.

Most of the small-scale farmers who produce the bulk of burley tobacco have withdrawn their crop, protesting over low prices. This is the first time in the history of burley marketing thatsmall-scale growers who previously passively accepted whatever price was offered, have cancelled a sale.

8.Mayor charged with fraud

The mayor of Chegutu, a small town about 100 km from Zimbabwe's capital, Harare,last week appeared in court facing charges of conniving with another man to defraud Chegutu Town Council of Z$170 000 through inflating the price of his mayoral car.

The mayor, William Muringani is alleged to have connived with co-accused MacDonald Chapfika to inflate the price of the mayoral Mercedes Benz from Z$570 000 to Z$740 000, and that they shared the Z$170 000 difference.

Muringani who is also facing an alternative charge of breaching the Prevention of Corruption Act has pleaded not guilty, saying he was not involved in the purchase of the car. However,Mr Bruce Pye from whom the car was bought for Z$570 000 told the court that the mayor was involved in the purchasing of the vehicle.

Chapfika has also pleaded not guilty. The trial was adjourned to May.

9.Banana left out of independence celebrations

Former president Reverend Canaan Banana was left out of the official independence day celebrations programme for the second year running after allegations of sexual assault surfacing against him last year.

According to the Zimbabwean order of precedency, a former head of state comes immediately after the two vice-presidents in all state functions, a rule that has been strictly followed since Banana's retirement in 1987.

He last appeared on the official independence celebrations list in 1996. Allegations of sodomy, attempted sodomy and indecent assault were first made against Banana in February last year and his case is still before the High Court.

10.Labour movement threatens another stayaway

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), which is agitating for above inflation salary and wage increases this year, resumes its nationwide consultations this weekend on a proposed one week work stoppage following government's failure to respond to its two-day stayaway last month.

ZCTU secretary general Morgan Tsvangirayi said this week two rallies would be held in Chinhoyi and Gweru to seek national consensus over the proposed shut-down already endorsed in Matabeleland, Masvingo and Manicaland, to force the government to scrap a two percent increase in sales tax, a five percent development levy and a new tax on pension profits.

"There has been no compromise from our earlier demands and actions. After thorough consultations with members, it is clear that the stayaway that we will undertake will be longer this time than before," Tsvangirayi said in an interview.

However, economic analysts have expressed the feeling that the proposed stayaway may this time antagonize the ZCTU with employers who in the past have generally been sympathetic with its cause. The last stayaway cost the economy about Z$700 million in lost production and business and the proposed one-week stayaway is likely to cost more than twice as much, something employers may not accept.

Meanwhile, in an act typical of the Zimbabwe government's stubbornness, it last week snubbed a joint labour movement and private sector-organised collective bargaining summit, an action which is likely to widen the gap between the stakeholders and create a potentially explosive environment as the country starts tough salary and wage negotiations for 1998.

11.Electricity board to meet government over Hwange deal

The board and management of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) have requested a meeting with Cabinet to discuss the implications of splitting Hwange power plant and offering more than half of it to a Malaysian company, YTL Corporation. According to a story carried by the Financial Gazette, the ZESA board and management feel the deal does not make economic sense if implemented in present form.

The ZESA board and management met in Harare this week to discuss how best to convince President Mugabe and his cabinet that the Z$10,2 billion Hwange deal would not benefit ordinary Zimbabweans in the long term if implemented in the way Malaysians are suggesting.

A ZESA board meeting chaired by the chairman, Professor Christopher Chetsanga, resolved to request a no-holds barred meeting with Mugabe and his cabinet so that they could weigh the advantages and disadvantages of going ahead with the sale of 51 percent of Hwange to YTL Corporation.

Mugabe last year dismissed the entire ZESA board which was chaired by Harare mayor, Solomon Tawengwa, after the board had voiced its disapproval of the Hwange deal. He then appointed the current board which is now also opposing the same deal. The Affirmative Action Group has also spoken strongly against the YTL/Hwange deal and warned the government not to sell strategic installations to foreigners as this would cost the country dearly in future.

YTL Corporation was awarded the Hwange shares without going to tender, and Mugabe defended his government's action sayingit was done in the spirit of South-South co-operation.

12.Policeman shoots university student

A senior police officer on Wednesday last week shot and seriously injured a University of Zimbabwe student demonstrator at the campus.

The third-year Bachelor of Science student, More-Memories Chawira was shot in the neck with an assault rifle and by Friday he was still in a critical condition in the intensive care unit at Parirenyatwa Hospital, with the bullet still lodged in his neck.

The officer commanding police in Harare, Assistant Commissioner Vitalis Gundani said the police officer opened fire after students allegedly started stoning vehicles on the campus. The students started a sit-in on Wednesday to demonstrate against the proposed privatisation of accommodation and catering facilities at the campus and to press for faster payout of their allowances.

The senior chaplain at the university, Rev. Sebastian Bakare said the police provoked the students who were demonstrating peacefully within the campus grounds. Riot police details who had earlier in the morning sealed the campus provoked the students by firing teargas from outside the perimeter fence around 3.30 p.m. Later, at around 5.30 p.m. they moved in with dogs, angering the students who then started stoning cars.

13.Britain and Malaysia absent from Zimbabwe Trade Fair

Zimbabwe's second biggest trading partner, the United Kingdom is absent from the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair this year.Political analysts have been quick to link Britain's absence from the fair to the sour relations between the two countries resulting from Britain's disapproval of the way Zimbabwe is handling the land issue.

Sources within the Ministry of Trade and Commerce have said British companies failed to exhibit at the fair because the British government did not give them the traditional support it normally gives to companies which exhibit. However, the British High Commission in Harare has dismissed the allegations that British companies did not exhibit because they failed to get support from their government, saying they have chosen to exhibit at Zimbex instead.

Malaysia, a country that has supported the fair since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, and has promised multi-million dollar investment in Zimbabwe, is also absent. It is believed the Malaysian government is unhappy with the slow pace at which the Zimbabwe government is moving in finalising the takeover of 51 percent shares of Hwange Thermal Power Station by Malaysia's YTL Corporation.

**************************** From: (Africa_news Network), Date: Thu, 14 May 1998 15:13:15 +0200 Subject: ZIMBABWE NEWS ONLINE #19 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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