ZIMBABWE Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Peter
Mutasa says the labour body will announce a series of dates for fresh protests
after the July 31 anti-corruption march. In an interview with NewsDay Midlands
Reporter Brenna Matendere (ND), Mutasa (PM) spoke about harassment of trade
unionists by the State, including arbitrary arrests and abductions. Below are
ND: What is your history in trade unionism?
PM: I joined a trade union in 1997 soon after getting
employed by the Standard Chartered Bank. I was initially an unconcerned passive
member of the trade union until I was unfairly dismissed in 1999 and was defended
by the workers’ committee and union. That is when I became active and was
elected in the workers’ committee. By 2003 I was the workers committee
chairperson at Standard Chartered Bank and by 2005 was Zimbabwe Banks and
Allied Workers’ Union (Zibawu) branch secretary.
In 2006, I was elected Zibawu vice-president, then
president and now its general-secretary. In 2012, I was also elected ZCTU
vice-president and president from 2016 to date.
At international level, I was honoured to be elected UNI
Global Union Africa youth executive member and currently UNI Africa finance
executive member. I was also an executive member of Southern African Trade
The responsibilities came with risks and I was dismissed
for trade union activities by an exploitative Standard Chartered Bank in 2007.
We also face brutality daily from the State which includes arrests and
ND: Can you recount some of the worst cases of torture and
persecution of ZCTU members?
PM: Just like in colonial Rhodesia, trade union activists
in Zimbabwe have suffered horrific brutalities at the hands of the State. There
is no difference between Rhodesia treatment of trade unionists and Zimbabwe
For ZCTU, ever since we differed with the Zanu PF
government on the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme, corruption, one
party State and other governance, social and economic issues we have been on
the receiving end.
All our leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Gibson Sibanda (all
late), Wellington Chibebe and Lovemore Matombo, Japhet Moyo and George Nkiwane
and now me have been abused by the State together with other activists.
We have been arrested, abducted, tortured, jailed, beaten
and threatened. (The late MDC leader) Morgan Tsvangirai was almost assassinated
at the ZCTU offices.
Wellington, Matombo and other leaders were badly beaten on
September 13, 2006 and left for dead. Some eventually died from the injuries.
Moyo and I faced treason charges just for discharging our
duties. These are recorded in various international labour records.
ND: Since the COVID-19 lockdown on March 30, how has been
the life of a worker in Zimbabwe?
PM: Miserable. According to ZimStats, 76% of the 2,9
million employed persons above the age of 15 are holding an informal job. The
lockdown policy failed to take into account these realities. The majority of
these workers live from hand to mouth and have to work daily.
The lockdown destroyed many livelihoods as the informal
sector was not allowed to operate. Markets stalls and other workplaces were also
destroyed by government and local authorities. This left this huge group of the
working class facing starvation, failing to pay rentals and online school fees
for kids. The promised social assistance was never received by the expectant
Even the formally employed group was not spared. Unlike
other governments, ours failed to come up with measures to mitigate jobs and
income loses. The government also failed to address health and safety
requirements of all workers, especially those at the frontline.
As a result many workers lost employment. Many on fixed
term and other less secure employment contracts lost jobs. In most cases these
were mainly young workers and women. Workers were already earning far less than
the poverty line and the lockdown which resulted in some employers reducing
salaries worsened the situation of most workers.
In short, an ill-prepared lockdown caused untold
socio-economic suffering to workers. The government simply sentenced workers
and vulnerable citizens to starvation and misery, then the security services
added by perpetuating various human rights violations against citizens and
workers. Many cases have been reported of police and military brutality during
In pursuit of corrupt buses purchasing deals, the government
added the troubles of workers by trying to create a Zupco monopoly. Workers are
struggling to travel to and from work daily – all this for some few cronies to
benefit through the bus procurement scandal.
ND: A couple of weeks ago, you threatened that workers
would embark on protests, what is the position now?
PM: We made a call for workers and citizens to liberate
themselves through collective action. We also indicated that we are embarking
on mobilisation of the workers around the country. This is going on and we are
almost there. We need all workers to unite first around uniform demands. In the
past, we had some discord, especially with some unions in public services,
especially Zimbabwe Teachers Association who supported Zimdollar salaries. Out of
a nasty experience, all unions are now agreed on our demands and all are
mobilising members towards collective action. An announcement of the dates and
form is coming any time.
Unless our demands are met, we are proceeding with serious
concerted national strikes and peaceful protest action. Everyday will be a day
of protest and every space an arena of struggle until we shrug off the
oppressive chains of a brutal dictatorship. The Zimbabwean government is now
just like the colonial regime and even worse than (the late former President
Robert) Mugabe’s last days. It is sad that we ended up having such a government
40 years after independence.
ND: There have been threats of protests set for July 31.
Will ZCTU be mobilising its members to join in?
PM: Workers are citizens and stay within broader
communities. It is natural that with or without mobilisation from their
organisations, they may participate in citizens arranged activities.
At organisational level, the organisers visited us and we
held discussions. We asked some important questions and received some
responses. Our decisions are made democratically by the workers through our
structures. We are currently consulting our structures for a definitive
ND: Have you been following up on families of people who
were killed in Harare by the army on January 2019 during the anti-fuel price
hike protests you organised?
PM: There was no reason for the State to brutalise and kill
citizens. It was simply a barbaric act by a government that intended to instil
fear in citizens. The government was aware it was failing to provide solutions
to the social and economic crises. It then sought to re-establish its coercive
hegemony by brutalising citizens in order to instil fear.
Those in power have not repented and have not been
remorseful on Gukurahundi and other atrocities they committed. They believe in
coercing citizens through State brutality, but they must be held accountable.
ZCTU is a member of various civil society coalitions. These coalitions have
various organisations specialising in different areas including securing
justice for those who are unjustly treated by the State security. All cases are
documented and followed up by different specialised civic society organisations.
ND: Government during the lockdown imposed a $2 500 minimum
wage when at that time the family food basket was about $10 000. Did you agree
to that minimum wage?
PM: No, that was an arbitrarily imposed minimum wage by a
government that clearly was not concerned about workers’ welfare. We had
demanded and almost agreed that the minimum wage would be US$230. Without
regard to many discussions we held, the minister woke up one day and announced
this slave wage as the new minimum. This is a big joke and the reason why
workers must fight back.
This minimum wage is just around US$23. Rent for a room is
roughly US$20, which means the majority of workers are earning just sufficient
to pay rentals for one room. What about food, clothing, school fees,
medicalcare, transport, etc?
Domestic workers are earning $900, which is equivalent to
US$8 while farm workers earn US$10. They can only buy a bucket of maize and
probably a bottle of cooking oil for working for the whole month.
There is no slavery as glaring as this in the modern world.
The government has failed workers.
ND: What is ZCTU’s current position on pushing for minimum
wage and how much are you looking at?
PM: We have not moved from our demand of US dollar minimum
wage. In fact, the government has moved to allow all businesses to charge in US
dollars. There is no justification for workers to continue working for
Zimdollars when prices of goods and services are now in hard currency.
We, therefore, restate our demand for US$600 minimum wage
and for workers to get ready for collective action.
ND: What are your long-term plans as ZCTU to better the
lives of workers?
PM: We are immediately seized with ensuring that workers
get a reasonable minimum wage as a matter of urgency. Our focus is on poverty
datum line-linked US dollar salaries in order to restore eroded workers
dignity. We also aim to end all forms of workplace abuses; these including
Chinese physical abuse of workers, racism, sexual harassment, wage theft etc.
We also want an immediate change in the manner our country
is governed. We have to fight against corruption, exploitation of our
resources, illicit financial flows, shrinking democratic space, human and trade
union violations as well as other governance deficiencies causing untold
suffering to citizens.
For a long time, we have been demanding labour law reforms
and this is a demand we are pursuing. Our current labour laws and judgments
have reinstated colonial master and servant labour relations. Remember the Zuva
and other judgments which literally withdrew all the labour rights we gained,
has to be corrected.
We also have generated a lot of policy documents on social
and economic reforms. We believe this rentier and crony capitalistic economy
must be urgently reformed and we are focusing on that as well. Neoliberalism,
austerity and other fascist economic policies must end. The informal sector
must be recognised, supported, formalised and respected.
We want the majority of workers to own a house because land
was expropriated for free. All children must be in school and not in child
labour. All households must have potable water, energy and ablution facilities.
Our resources and economic capabilities can support such an egalitarian
Internally, we are focusing on uniting all workers under
the ZCTU. We, therefore, aim to develop sustainable, independent and strong
affiliates across all sectors. This should lead to increased union density in
the long run that will build workers collective power. Newsday