The time for a workers’ revolution is now

Zimbabwe should be embarrased to be amongst the eight African countries - three of whom are from the Southern African region - to be on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conference agenda for violating workers' rights.

Nevertheless, this is not at all surprising as the gross workers’ rights abuses in this country are so evil that even the cruelest 18th century slave driver would look like a saint.

This is not only embarrasing, but also hypocratical for a country that was founded on the roots of workers’ rights movements.

Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle was championed by stalwarts such as the late Joshua Nkomo and Benjamin Burombo, who led revolutionary labour movements.

The history of this country’s liberation movements was engraved on the backs of the struggle of Black workers who were treated as inferior to their White colleagues.

Nonetheless, in an independent Zimbabwe, Black workers find themselves in a far worse plight than what they were subjected to in Rhodesia.

I am not exaggerating, nor politicking, as anyone who was a worker in Rhodesia will easily testify to this fact.

Both my parents were employed during the Rhodesian era, but despite their low paying jobs, we never lacked food, schools fees and uniforms, rent, and could even afford the comforts of travelling around the country, and eating out in good hotels.

Additionally, workers in Rhodesia were always paid everytime and on time – as well as their annual and target bonuses.

Their pensions were also faithfully paid out – and they were genuine pensions that would guarantee a comfortable retirement, thus the Shona term, ‘mudyandigere’.

However, what have workers got to show in an independent Zimbabwe – a country whose independence came at the very high cost of the blood of thousands of innocent men, women and children?

In Zimbabwe, workers are awarded measly salaries, which they do not even receive on time – if they are fortunate enough to receive them at all.

If a worker receives the pathetic salary, they can not even afford to buy food, let alone pay rentals, school fees and transport fares to enable them to go to work everyday.

Those unfortunate not to receive their salaries, may endure months, if not years, without earning anything.

It is so saddening that most hardworking people in Zimbabwe have been reduced to nothing more than paupers and beggars.

Whilst employees are being treated as slaves, the government –  that is supposed to protect them – is busy enacting laws that further emasculates them, but favours the slave-driving employers.

This is the same government that preached ‘gutsa ruzhinji’, or socialism during the liberation struggle and a few years after.

We were told that Whites – who were the employers – were capitalist oppressors, who drank Black people’s blood for breakfast.

Teachers and nurses could buy suburban houses, but today, they are mere lodgers – whom government tries to ‘bribe’ with residential stands, in place of salaries.

In fact, newly independent African states made a lot of noise demanding reparations from Western countries, accusing them of enriching themselves on the backs of African slave labour and resources.

Today, such a concept is laughable, because we now have African slave drivers, who are plundering Africa’s resources, yet the continent is even poorer.

Whose interests are our governments truly serving?

In Zimbabwe, we have the state-run National Social Security Authority (NSSA), which was ostensibly established to act as a financial safety net for workers on the inevitable event of their retirement.

However, the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice (ZimJustice) has received some very disturbing reports.

A retired senior bank manager, who made monthly contributions to NSSA between 1994 and 2011 – whose monthly salary at retirement was US$3578.00 – is currently receiving a sickly US$60 per month.

Can this not be safely described as ‘daylight robbery’?

What is a former senior bank manager – or any other worker, for that matter – supposed to do with $60 a month?

NSSA’s alleged trickery does not end there.

A 78 year old retired nurse had to frequently travel to her nearby NSSA offices – 60 kilometres away – for three years, as the state-run authority was refusing to award her benefits – for lack of a better word – due to her.

Apparently, despite contributing regularly for 11 years, NSSA had, for reasons only known to them, created two files for her – one stating that she had contributed for seven years, and the other saying she contributed for four years.

Needless to say, this disqualified her from earning anything from NSSA, as a beneficiary should have contributed for at least 10 years.

Only after the intervention of an attentive and caring official was this anomaly fixed.

So what had happened – was NSSA trying to defraud an innocent hardworking 78 year old widow – who had worked for this country since 1964 as a nurse, but today has nothing to show for it?

Nevertheless, she – as the retired senior bank manager – is receiving $60 per month, which is not even enough to buy food, let alone pay for her rates.

These are just two of tens of thousands of workers, who have contributed their very lives to the development of this country, but have been reduced to basket cases.

This in contrast to NSSA board members who earn US$2000 allowances per quarter, $490 sitting allowance for sub-committee meetings, and $600 general board meeting sitting allowance.

In addition, recently, the white-collar crime investigating unit, the National Economic Conduct Inspectorate (Neci), grilled NSSA directors on their dealings with CBZ Holdings – in which the authority owns just over 10% of issued share capital.

NSSA has vast investments, using pensioners contributions, yet those who rightfully should be benefitting are living in abject poverty.

Should Zimbabwean workers continue to be exploited and abused without standing up for their rights?

This country still survives – in spite of gross corruption and mismanagement by those in power – as a result of the loyalty and diligence of workers.

Workers deserve much better.

Enough is enough – it is time that workers revolted in a constitutional manner against such injustices.

They are not asking for anything they did not work for.

It is evil to deprive someone something that they have worked for, and truly deserve.

Now is the time for all workers not to just sit and offer unfulfilled and empty ultimatums of strikes and other job action, but is the time to get out there and truly be heard and be listened to.

This is not the time for fear, as nothing has ever been achieved through fear.

The majority of people during Rhodesian days had no voice or vote, but they brought about change through mere brevity – come rain, come thunderstorm, come prison, come death – as compromise and a desire to preserve one’s life has only achieved one thing…nothing!

° Tendai Ruben Mbofana is Programmes Director at the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice (ZimJustice). Please call/WhatsApp: +263782283975, or email: tendaiandtinta.mbofana@gmail.com. Please also ‘Like’ the ZimJustice page on Facebook

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  • David Barber

    Tendai Mbofana is right in that Zimbabwean workers will not get
    their proper treatment unless they, themselves, take action and force the government to act.

    However, the ILO is not being honest about the situation because,
    although Zimbabwe is among the worst, every single African country, without exception, is violating workers’ rights. According to the World Bank’s OWN figures, 91% of Africans earn less than US$5 a day, and 43% less than a measly US$1.90 a day. Not many slaves were paid, but some were. And if you take inflation into account, 91% of Africans earn less today than their wage-earning ancestors did as slaves.

    Living conditions are just as bad. 60% of urban dwellers (or 20% of
    all Africans) now live in slums, with the figure rising rapidly every year. But what neither African governments nor the official aid agencies (primarily the World Bank, IMF, UN) will admit to us is that these are often actually worse than the living quarters of slaves. If you find that hard to believe, just select ‘Images’ on Google, and then ‘North America slave quarters’, and you will see what I mean. Many North American slaves were also better fed than the 25% of Africans who now suffer from starvation and malnutrition, and their life expectancy was considerably higher over a hundred years ago.

    Western MNCs are also violating the rights of their workers. It is
    well-known that, almost without exception, they pay their African employees a fraction of what they pay their Western ones for doing exactly the same jobs, and many NGOs – who ought to know better – are equally guilty. In fact, what they pay Africans is actually illegal in the West. But what few people know is that, RIGHT NOW, many MNCs could pay their African employees exactly the same as their Western employees! IN FACT, MANY COULD HAVE DONE SO RIGHT FROM THE END OF COLONIALISM! That is a truly horrifying thought, and a breath-taking example of human exploitation.

    All this proves that when Tendai Mbofana compares the situation
    today with the days of slavery, he is not exaggerating because the facts support him.

    The official aid agencies and African governments also tell us that
    poverty is reducing. I suspect most Zimbabweans – at least, the honest ones – will find that laughable, and the facts support them. Because the official World Bank/UN figures are grossly wrong. The fact is that there are now 300% more – yes, 300% MORE – Africans in extreme poverty now than there were in 1981. And, again what African governments and the aid agencies have hidden from us is that the income gap between Africans is now 300% wider now than it was in
    1960. Africans are actually getting further and further away from the living standards of Westerners.

    The very sad fact is that none of this was necessary! Had the official
    aid agencies done what they should have done after the end of colonialism, poverty would by now have been a thing of the past and the great majority of African citizens would have been approaching Western standards of living, if not actually there. But it was and is not in their commercial, financial and political interests to do so.

    It means that if Africans want to not just escape poverty but have
    high quality lifestyles, they must stop relying on either their governments or the official aid agencies, and take responsibility themselves for making this happen. In fact, history tells us that they must do this. When you look at the history of what are now the developed nations, you discover that three preconditions had to be in place before their citizens could go from poverty to affluence. But the absolutely vital one, and the one on which the other two depend,
    was this:

    The crucial factor was the mobilisation of the nation’s own citizens.
    In almost NO case was it their government that instigated and led the move to take its citizens out of poverty and into affluence. There were exceptions, but only in special circumstances, none of which apply to any African nation.
    So the way forward is not difficult to understand: every campaigner
    must stop complaining about what governments or the West are or are not doing, and concentrate entirely on how to get a critical mass of African citizens to combine together into a single, pan-African movement aimed at forcing their governments to do whatever is necessary to create the jobs necessary to close the gap between African and Western standards of living. Nothing else will do, and the solutions are actually quite simple.