SW Radio Africa’s Violet Gonda speaks to the president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions Lovemore Matombo, who gives the ZCTU’s position on the coalition government and the key issues that affect workers. He says the MDC was initially regarded as “a union-based party with strong connections to the poor” but has now disengaged itself from the labour movement. Matombo feels they no longer share an ideological connection with the MDC:
Broadcast: April 23, 2010
VIOLET GONDA: My guest on the programme Hot Seat today is the President of the Zimbabwe’s Congress of Trade Unions Mr. Lovemore Matombo.
Where is the focus of the ZCTU right now?
LOVEMORE MATOMBO: Well the focus of the ZCTU remains the same in that we need to guide the working people along processes that should give them enough money for their survival. That has always been the case – whatever we do, wherever we go, whatever we talk, it has always been the case that we need Zimbabwean people to earn enough money, that is of course not below the poverty datum line and our focus has remained as it is.
GONDA: Before we carry on with that point, what is the ILO Commission of Enquiry and what did it release?
MATOMBO: The ILO Commission of Enquiry Report is one significant report that has come, that has emerged from the International Labour Organisation. It is the first time that the International Labour Organisation invoked Article 26 of its Constitution to investigate and make an enquiry of a member State and coming up with the position that they did is also quite significant and also the recommendation. This Report, in our view, vindicates the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in that they did discover that there was a trade union and a human rights violation in Zimbabwe, well documented and this is quite significant. We feel so vindicated.
GONDA: What are these violations and what were their recommendations?
MATOMBO: What was happening is this – the violations which they started to investigate, the investigation started in 2002 going up until 2009 and what they wanted to see was whether from what the ZCTU was presenting at the ILO, whether that was true or not that people were being arrested, that people were being tortured and that people were being harassed and what they had to do was to have discussions with those people who were directly affected by the human rights violations. And of course they also discussed this issue with government ministers. The Report is quite clear about which ministers were visited and who were part and parcel of this whole inquiry and generally all those people do agree that there were human rights and trade union rights violations in Zimbabwe, including the employers themselves, they also do agree.
But of course there were some recommendations, but let me just mention the two of the main recommendations which are so clear and fundamental – these are mainly that there should be a truth, reconciliation and justice within the Zimbabwean population because they had noted the polarisation of the Zimbabwean society, polarisation on political grounds. And that recommendation is important because Zimbabwe remains a traumatised society because of the human rights violations that were conducted by the government of the day and the question of reconciliation, truth and reconciliation becomes paramount.
There’s also another recommendation that the structures of the security sector needs training and education. For example what you might have heard is that, say if ZCTU is conducting a particular exercise, like protesting or demonstrating, the first thing the police do is not to talk to the people, they hit, they just hit. Precisely the same way that used to happen with the colonial system, so what it means is that the colonial system has continued up until to this day and what is important is that there should be training to ensure that the police should understand what are the basic rights and what are not the basic rights and how do they treat each and every person. So I think those two areas are so key and fundamental as part of the recommendations of the Commission of Enquiry.
GONDA: There is an Organ on National Healing, is it doing enough as far as the ZCTU is concerned to address some of these issues?
MATOMBO: Ah well, it is just an Organ. I don’t think it is doing anything at all. Well these are just structures which were made for politics, it’s not doing enough and it has never been heard anywhere and as you might know there continues to be human rights violations even up to today, people being arrested and the infighting and so the Zimbabwean society is still so much polarised and that thing does not exist in the eyes of Zimbabweans. And I don’t think even if you go to the rural area, to talk about the Organ on Healing and Reconciliation as whether they know that there is such an Organ that exists. It is just there on paper and in as far as ZCTU is concerned, that thing does not even exist.
GONDA: And just going back to the issue of salaries – you mentioned this at the beginning of the interview – now I understand that the government, through Finance Minister Tendai Biti has said that salaries have been frozen indefinitely because the government has no money for salary increases for State workers. What’s your response to this?
MATOMBO: I think it is an unfortunate situation that we are getting through these days. I don’t know why they say the government has no money and why is it, it doesn’t have money? We need to find out. Basically what happens is that when people are given some functions to do, if it is in industry, people are given the mandate because they have to navigate through difficult situations, but to say we cannot do anything because we have no money is not satisfactory enough. And I think this might agitate workers to go yet again on the streets.
It is the role of government to find the money and we want to say to government – please find that money and we know you can find that money. Zimbabwe is very rich; Zimbabwe is extremely rich that it is so absurd to suggest that a government would tell us that it doesn’t have money. I know there is a lot of money in Zimbabwe, there is a lot of money, where is the money going to? Where is the money going to? Where is the money from Chiadzwa going to? In fact there is more than what we need, there is more than what 14 million Zimbabweans would want. There is a lot of money. They must re-correct and realign the governance system so that there is transparency even in the manner in which we conduct business. Let’s bring in some good corporate governance. The problem is that anyone can do as he or she chooses to do. This is why we appear as if we are a very poor country. Zimbabwe is not a poor country and ZCTU cannot be made to believe that Zimbabwe is a poor country. It’s not, we are not poor, we are very rich. And I think we want to continue to urge the government to make sure that they find those resources and be able to pay the civil servants.
GONDA: Now some have said that the diamond fields that you’ve just mentioned in Chiadzwa should be nationalised so that some of the revenue goes to the workers. Would you be in favour of this?
MATOMBO: Well, if they are given to private individuals I think Zimbabwe should rise up against those people. The diamond mine should not be owned by individuals, it should not be owned by individuals. If there is an individual who own the mine for example like what we hear – ACR – they must accept that 50 or 51% should go to the fiscus – that’s the only way we can accept a private company to operate. But if any other private company would come in and claim to be a Zimbabwean and therefore claim to, the honest truth is that I think if this diamond saga is to have peace in the people of Zimbabwe then let it be nationalised in the first place. But even if you nationalise, do you trust the people who nationalise? That’s another question. This is why it is important that should anything happen, it has to be transparent enough and we support anything that introduces a good corporate governance to ensure that the profits of the Chiadzwa would go to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
GONDA: So as the labour movement and indeed the general civil society have you insisted to find out where the money is going from the sale of diamonds or whatever is happening in the Chiadzwa area? What is the labour movement doing about this?
MATOMBO: Well the whole environment is a closed society just as we know that the people of the type of governance system like the one we have in Zimbabwe are in a closed society and obviously the officials would not want to be moved at all. But I think with time people will know exactly where the money is going. I don’t think there is anything that will ever be hidden forever. It will be known, it will be known, but unfortunately for us as ZCTU we do not know where the money is going, we certainly don’t.
GONDA: And you have threatened to take action if the salaries issue is not resolved, but how do you respond to those who say that a strike action actually hurts the common man more than the politician?
MATOMBO: Well it depends as to what they are saying and where they are coming from. Zimbabwe is a country that has a high level of disparity. You have people who are super rich in Zimbabwe and you have people who are extremely poor, that’s a real problem that we have. In fact for people who are earning 150 US dollars to suggest that if they go on strike they will be hurt – they are already hurt, people are suffering already to the extent that you cannot differentiate between the salaries they are earning or even if they didn’t have any salaries, salary, earnings at all. The point that remains at the moment is that the salaries or no salaries it now looks as if it is one and the same thing and therefore the strike can only be the solution. Strike, protest and any other action that will force the government to accept and in fact to give salaries to the civil servants.
GONDA: So where is the ZCTU right now? Why is it that you are not visible these days on the streets especially after the formation of the unity government?
MATOMBO: But you must also appreciate that once this political arrangement was created in February last year, people had high expectations, very, very high expectations indeed and some really believed that because we have an inclusive government everything was going to work according to expectations, so it was not necessary, it could have been strategically wrong for us to start to protest, because then these people wanted at least a particular time from which everyone could judge their performance. Fourteen months down the line for example I think it should be sufficient enough for any other person to say – have these people performed well, given the promises that existed at the inauguration of this government? Can we fully say that they’ve performed to the satisfaction of the people? But we in the labour movement are saying no, these people have not performed to the expectation and what we don’t want to hear from them is to lament and say that because of this and that, no, no, no, no. The role why politicians are there is that they should be able to navigate the rough terrain that exists! That’s what we know and do the right thing.
GONDA: So when is the labour movement going to take action?
MATOMBO: No we will take action in a systematic manner because what it is is that it’s important that you take everybody because we believe on a bottom-up approach, we believe that what we need to do is to continue to galvanise support from the bottom, that’s the most important thing. And so that when we go for a strike it has to be as successful as possible. But I think, give us time, this will come and hopefully the government is taking notice of what we are saying.
GONDA: And what are your views on the freezing of State workers’ salaries without streamlining a bloated unity government?
MATOMBO: This is very unfortunate really. It appears that the politics in Zimbabwe will not change for a very long time to come. Of course we know we have survived for 30 years under one political governance structure – with traditions, culture and values and it appears also that even if you change personalities, the culture and the values still remain the same. This is what is quite frightening, it’s very frightening and we hope and trust that at some stage, Zimbabweans have to transform – it’s no longer a question of changing government, it’s a question of transforming. Zimbabweans should transform themselves. Their attitude, their tradition, their values need to be transformed now because as long as we cannot do that you can have two, three governments that can be changed within three years, I assure you, the behaviour will be one and the same thing and that’s the quagmire we seem to find ourselves.
GONDA: And you mentioned that it was strategically wrong to protest when the coalition government was formed. The MDC which is now part of this coalition government actually came from the labour movement. So what is the relationship with the ZCTU and the MDC now that it’s in government? Do you still have a solid relationship?
MATOMBO: Well it was the expectations of all the workers around Zimbabwe that once the MDC gets into government they will also advance the working peoples’ agenda – that was the wish; those were the expectations of all the workers in Zimbabwe. But of course MDC will also reply and say – MDC is not in government, it is in an inclusive government. But we will also say even if you are in an inclusive government it’s not that you have to follow ZANU PF just because you are still in an inclusive government, you also have to portray your own views so that people can understand. But the moment you start talking about privatisation and the moment you start talking about all these things – for a party whose formation was facilitated by many civic organisations and the poor people? It was not the rich people, they were the poor people, they are the ones who facilitated the MDC and the poor people in my view, the way I see it, will remain extremely poor and then we might not have a friend that, we can only have a friend when we go for an election. It is so unfortunate that this is what is happening.
Well, the relationship, the ZCTU still remains an independent organisation because there is a danger here of ZCTU just agreeing with MDC when in fact we are supposed to give guidance and I think we should remain resolute. I know there are some people who say whatever MDC says, we should agree to it, no, no, no we cannot do that. In fact as you might know, trade unions everywhere and student union movements throughout the world are the torchbearer of any political and economic direction and this is what the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions will do.
GONDA: But is there still an ideological connect between the ZCTU and the MDC?
MATOMBO: Well I think from the way things are happening we are diametrically opposed ideologically in terms of the political and economic direction of the two. ZCTU as is always the case we don’t belong to the right, we belong to the left, that’s the truth and that; I think your question is quite clear – this is purely an ideological difference.
GONDA: Can you explain the fundamental differences?
MATOMBO: Well the fundamental differences are quite clear. One – that if you want to introduce an economic plan you don’t just do it from your own desk, you involve others so that all of us can put across our economic plans, what we think are in the best interests of the workers. We don’t want to behave like what we have seen from the Minister of Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment – you introduce your own law in your own desk and you say you are empowering 14 million? But you don’t want to discuss with the people who represent workers, the people who are making the best out of their labour and that’s exactly the same thing that we are saying, let’s always make a consultation.
And also I think if you want to make an economic plan you need to have a bottom-up approach. Zimbabwe’s economy is in tatters and what we have are members of the informal economy, these people need to be nursed up and I think what the MDC economic ministries were supposed to do was to liaise with the informal economy and we have structured informal economy structures around the country, get to know their feeling, get to know what they would want and in fact that’s the way we have to do it. But what you see in these people is that they are making economic plans based on the corporate business that exists today and that’s very dangerous and in some ways it is frightening because even some of the business people are saying – you workers, you call yourselves workers that you want a poverty datum line, we’ve got our new ministers these days and you are never going to get anything. They are very proud of that. In fact what we now have are the two diametrically opposed ideologies where this government belongs to the right and the labour movement to the left. So yes it can clearly be observed that this ideological position is very clear so the ordinary person is now quite clear, they are very poor and as you have just heard, they cannot give us money because the government has no money.
GONDA: Some have actually said that the MDC disengaged too early from the movement, would you say that is the correct observation?
MATOMBO: Yah well, I think it took ZANU almost a decade to disengage literally. But I think the argument of MDC is that, according to what we hear, is that they say; ‘they are these people who think they know everything and these organisations where formed just for purposes of opposing’. Well yes it is quite frightening also that some of the speeches are coming from MDC but we hope and trust that at some stage they will realise that the war has not been won and they also still need friends but if they believe they don’t need friends, well the choice is theirs, it’s not for us. After all it’s them who want to be voted into office and but I think it is a bit too early, it was a bit too early for them to disengage.
GONDA: And just going back to the composition of the ZCTU, what is your membership now considering the growth of the informal sector?
MATOMBO: Well formal employment is just around 650 000, around there, 650 000 and our membership is about 350 000 and then we have, well the rest of these people, over 90% of them are unemployed and among the 90%, 44% are members of the informal economy, well structured and we work with them quite closely, we have got a desk of the informal economy in the ZCTU and they’re doing quite well although they are not receiving any support from government but nonetheless, they are surviving under the circumstances.
GONDA:So would it be correct to say that your membership has been weakened by the informal sector and also the high unemployment rate?
MATOMBO: Precisely it has been weakened but for the first time I think we are the only country that has been able to recruit people through the informal economy to the extent that the relationship of the unemployed and the employed is intertwined and for that we are very proud. I think that was a very good strategy although some people look at the formal employment alone but I think the way we did with the informal economy and so on it was a good idea because we had known, we had seen beforehand that the question of unemployment was going to hit us hard and this is why we had to come up with the informal economy which is well structured around the country -although it was decimated in 2005 by the so-called Operation Murambatsvina, but I think we have done extremely well to keep close to some of our colleagues in the unemployment sector in the form of the informal economy.
GONDA: And of course there are others who say that the ZCTU is no longer the vibrant body that used to be there during the time of Morgan Tsvangirai, would you agree with this?
MATOMBO: Well it depends as to where people are coming from and whether they are sophisticated enough to be able to analyse. But I think let’s agree that previously the media was there for everybody, it was there for the trade unions, it was there for the employers, it was there for the government and once the ZCTU says we have got a stay-away tomorrow, the Herald would put on the front line, on the front page that there will be a ZCTU stay-away, there will be a trade union strike, so the media was available, the tools of communication were available. That’s no longer the case today. I’m not quite sure whether people would understand that if we call for a strike ourselves you can imagine what the Herald is going to say, you can imagine what the ZTV is going to say. We’ve got so many enemies so a poor analysis would suggest that way but I don’t think that is quite true, people need to be quite analytical about this.
GONDA: We did talk a bit about the indigenisation policies but as ZCTU can you just briefly outline your position as the trade union movement on this because you have some people saying that employees should have shares and therefore part own some of the companies, how are you contributing to this debate?
MATOMBO: To be honest with you, this Indigenisation Bill and I think we have said this that the Indigenisation Bill was applied elsewhere in Africa but the Zimbabwean one has come at the wrong time. There is a lot of suspicion and as I have stated earlier on that if the intention was to transfer wealth to 14 million Zimbabweans, why not include the ZCTU in the crafting of such a Bill? Why was it exclusively a ministerial issue alone? So it’s not true that the issue is about distributing wealth to Zimbabwe, it is distributing wealth to the big chefs in government, those are the people who are going to enjoy those benefits and therefore ZCTU at the moment we say no to the implementation of that process unless if it can come to the Tripartite Negotiating Forum where the key economic players will have an input and this is what we have always said. Why is it they are so afraid of transparency, why not bring it to the TNF for discussions? Why just forcing it on the throats of individuals? That is the problem and that clearly indicates the type of people we are dealing with.
GONDA: Both MDC and ZANU PF have said they want elections to be held next year in 2011, what’s the ZCTU’s position on this?
MATOMBO: I think what we seem to see about these elections and the Global Political Agreement is that these people they are highly polarised and they’ll never agree to anything. What we thought they should do at this stage is to make sure that SADC will come up with the electoral systems that are self-proof and ensure that SADC and AU will supervise those elections and also the United Nations should be reigned in to ensure that they monitor those elections so that the winner can win without any disturbance and the loser should accept to relinquish power whoever that might be, but I think this is what is required. Surely if we wait and say that there shall be a constitution, a constitution? Well I don’t think these people will ever come with a new constitution but otherwise let’s have the electoral laws that should force individuals to abide by them and ensure that we come up with an undisputed electoral system.
GONDA: So as the labour body, you want the elections to be held as soon as possible, even 2011?
MATOMBO: You see we would want those elections to be held even tomorrow only if we have put conditions for free and fair elections in place. That’s what we are saying and that the structures for supervising and monitoring elections should be undisputed. For example, we need the SADC and AU to come and monitor and supervise those elections. These elections should not be left to Zimbabweans alone because we know what will happen in the end so that’s precisely what we want and if we can have those things in place, let’s have those elections even tomorrow because we already know who will win if we have them tomorrow.
GONDA: Final question – some have said that the civil society is very quiet and is not doing enough to point out the failures of the unity government, why is that?
MATOMBO: Yah I think most of the civic organisations in Zimbabwe are still in the learning process I suppose because you know these people have been frightened by the authoritarian system. They have been frightened and the culture is that whatever the politicians say, they say yes, we will see later on and so on and so forth, so they cannot stick their necks out and say you are doing wrong. You know some of them also might be looking for employment you never know and they cannot afford to rock the boat, they will just say yes, it doesn’t matter. So there are many factors that we have to consider. There are some people who just agree with the inclusive government purely because their expectations are that at some stage they might be somewhere, somewhere there but well that’s what life is all about.
GONDA: Thank you very much Mr. Lovemore Matombo.
MATOMBO: OK thanks, cheers.
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