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ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo on Question Time

The president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Lovemore Matombo, is the guest on Question Time and joins SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma to answer questions from listeners. He states the ZCTU position in support of only holding presidential elections next year, their relationship with the MDC, attitude to the coalition government, constitution making and the empowerment legislation, plus diamond mining in Chiadzwa. Has the ZCTU been demobilized and unable to call for strikes?

Interview broadcast 15 December 2010

Lance Guma: Two weeks ago the president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Lovemore Matombo said the country did not need to hold parliamentary elections and should instead focus on holding a presidential election. Well Mr Matombo is our guest on Question Time this week and is here to answer your questions. Thank you for joining us on the programme.

Lovemore Matombo: You are welcome.

Guma: OK, now we understand you have just been at the Montclair for a retreat of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, could you just maybe tell our listeners what it was all about?

Matombo: We had gone to Montclair as a retreat of our labour institute, the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute just to evaluate the work they have done during the course of the year and of course we did discuss quite a number of issues pertinent to the current political and economic environment. So that was the basis of our retreat to Juliasdale.

Guma: OK I might as well start with a question that more or less links to your having this retreat, a listener from Victoria Falls who does not wish to have their name read out says they remember in November, I think that was last year, when you and four other ZCTU staff members were arrested in Victoria Falls for addressing a ZCTU meeting. Now his question is – how has that case been concluded and are you still facing problems holding your meetings as a trade union?

Matombo: Not necessarily about meeting disturbances but we have recorded arrests and disturbances of individuals during the year and we came up with about 111 violations that we have recorded. But in as far as our meetings are concerned, the environment appears to be peaceful and we are holding our meetings without any disturbances as the leadership of ZCTU.

Guma: OK and how has that particular case been resolved? When you were arrested, were you charged? How was that concluded?

Matombo: Well in fact the magistrate at the time made it quite clear to the police that the police had no right what so ever under POSA to disturb meetings that are called by the labour movement. In fact POSA is very clear; Schedule 24 is very clear that the labour movement does not need to apply for any permission and I think it was just a question of being mischievous by the police officers in that area. But what we have done is that we have sued the police and the case is still with the court. We hope at some stage it will be heard.

Guma: OK naturally most of our questions from the listeners were centred on your comments on the forthcoming elections. From Bindura comes an email from someone calling themselves Mabandi and he wants to know why you think parliamentary elections are not necessary and we should just have a presidential poll?

Matombo: Well what we have said as ZCTU and our resolution is very clear, that the issue that brought about this political arrangement called the GNU arose as a result of the dispute on the presidential election. If there was no dispute on that aspect we could not have come with this particular political arrangement and therefore, I think it is clear to everybody that as a matter of principle, the issue that is contestable at the moment is that of the presidential elections of 2008, and therefore we believe it is reasonable that we should go for presidential elections only.

Guma: Now within the context of your resolution, would that be open to all the candidates or just between Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe?

Matombo: Our view is that because we had not gone to the time limits of both the presidential and parliamentary election, the disputants are the ones that should go for these elections.

Guma: OK, we move onto the next question – Honest Manhanga from Harare wants to know why the ZCTU has been quiet for a very long time in terms of organising things like stay-aways and demonstrations? He says does this mean there are no issues affecting workers right now?

Matombo: I think basically what the people of Zimbabwe need to understand is that ZCTU is not necessarily a political organisation. It is a labour movement and our day-to-day operations that deals with worker/employer relationship are still going ahead as is always the case, but of course, because our social well being is affected directly by politics, that’s when we come in.

We are not that quiet. I think people would want to understand the ZCTU only when we call for stay-aways, when we call for protest and things like that, but I think it’s only fair and reasonable enough that after the consummation of the political agreement, weigh up MDC as a party. It was necessary that we give them an opportunity and this opportunity in my view has now been understood by workers because the workers belong to various political organisations and we did not want to be seen as rocking the boat.

But I’ve said on a number of occasions that as we approach the end of the year and the beginning of the year, the workers have been made quite clear that there are certain issues that we would want to demonstrate again, particularly those that deal with the poverty datum line, those that deal with employers’ intransigence and those that deal with the unfinished political business and we assure you that come next year, come early next year we are putting everything in place to demonstrate for our wellbeing.

Guma: Andrew, a teacher based in Gweru, wants to know if the ZCTU has a relationship with the unions that represent civil servants in the country? I think his main gripe is that he feels that ZCTU is not very vocal in supporting the demands for better salaries being made by civil servants. Is that a fair criticism or a perception issue?

Matombo: Well basically like I’ve just said, people would want to understand the ZCTU when it gets into the street, but I’ll assure you that we are in constant touch with the civil servants and let me say that the ZCTU for the past seven years, we have been campaigning for a trade union movement, within the public service, we have always said that the public service association is not a union.

A public service association remains a colonial set-up which has not changed 30 years down the line and even the ILO has supported our position that what these people need is an institutional framework for negotiations and we hope that as we have put pressure on government, the minister of Labour is quite aware, we have discussed this at our tri-partite negotiating forum, both formerly and informally and the issue of harmonising which is the first and foremost aspect that we need to consider.

We need to harmonise the Labour Act and the harmonisation is likely to be completed during the first quarter of 2011, and once that happens, what it means is that they will be, the public service association will then have a national employment council to which they will make presentations during their negotiations.

And we have never been quiet as such. We have supported the public service association; in many cases we have released statements and we have been very vocal about the issues that affect the public service members. But it’s not only the public service, lets make this very clear, the rest of the working people in this country are still earning salaries that are 50 per cent below the poverty datum line. And this concern, I assure you, ZCTU is quite aware about that.

Let me also say that even the minister of Finance, we did discuss with him in regard to the salary structure of the public servants and well although we are not satisfied, but because he has decided to make an increment is testimony to our being vocal, it is in our view testimony to the pressure that has been presented by both the public servants, the trade unions and all other progressive democratic forces in Zimbabwe.

Guma: Still on that, you did briefly touch on the unity government – we have a listener from Chipinge who wants to know your feelings as a union towards the current unity government. Was it necessary and if not, what would you have suggested as an option?

Matombo: The first thing that we need to appreciate is that there was no way we could resolve the Zimbabwean political system without negotiations. Even the armed struggle in 1979, the ultimate approach was to go to the Lancaster House Conference and have negotiations.

Negotiations were necessary, we accept that. The point is, was it the right time, was it the right timing at the time? And perhaps that’s where the debate comes in because in politics, the moment you misjudge your movement, you destroy everything that you have and our view is that as much as we would have wanted to see an effective conclusion to the political struggle, I think the timing was wrong and therefore this is why we have got the current problem in the GNU and it’s going to take us even longer because of that political misjudgement.

Guma: What sort of timing would have been appropriate Mr Matombo?

Matombo: In our view, that would be very strategic and may not be necessary for us to get into that. But what I am saying is, I’ll give you just a simple analogy. If for example, OK let’s go back to the 1976 Geneva Conference. The British called for the Geneva Conference in 1976 and it flopped, it failed because the white settler colonialists were still very much active at the time.

But it was different in 1979 because the colonialists understood that the time was out and therefore they had to concede to the demands of the liberation movement. So really that same analogy can be said in respect to the timing of this political arrangement that came on the 15th of September 2008.

Guma: We move onto Karoi where Kelvin says the ZCTU gave birth to the MDC in a sense but it seems the two have since parted company in terms of strategic alliances. His question is, is this true and how would you describe your current relationship with the MDC who are now in this unity government?

Matombo: It’s true that ZCTU facilitated the formation of the MDC. It’s true that all along when MDC was in opposition it could sing the same tune as we were singing and that was correct at that particular time. But once they got into the government of national unity and once we differed on the constitution making process, I think some of the guys in MDC were quite equivocal claiming that ZCTU, NCA and the ZINASU that were like dogs that were barking on a moving train.

We were given names, not by junior MDC officials but by senior MDC officials but for us we are used to these terms. We are trade unions and we are used to it and we don’t bear grudge with anybody. But what we would is that MDC should also continue its original mandate, that of defending the poor people in this country. But if it is because they are now in government and that capital is now more important than the poor who voted them in, surely what should we do?

I think it is fair for ZCTU to remain consistent. We could have supported the MDC through and through even with the constitutional issue, but really I think the role of civic society, progressive civic society is to make sure that they remain watchdogs of government, not appendages of government, not surrogates of government. They should remain as watchdogs.

Where they are doing right things, ZCTU is there to praise them, where there are wrong things, we are there to pinpoint at those areas, so really it’s the relationship as we would normally say ‘hatinga goni kuramba tichiita hushamwari hunosvika muna December’ we cannot continue to be relatives in that order when in fact things are going asunder and this is the position of the ZCTU.

ZCTU should remain consistent, consistent to its values, consistent to its vision and ZCTU should remain in touch with the people of Zimbabwe, listen to the people of Zimbabwe what they are saying and that is what we will pronounce. If we have to become elitist what is likely to happen is that we will listen to the leadership of MDC and this culture of believing that a labour movement is subordinate to the political parties is wrong and we want this to be understood by every person.

It doesn’t matter which political position they hold, this must be understood. ZCTU shall remain to present the views of the working people of this country, whether with or without some political parties and that is what we believe in.

Guma: Diamonds in the country have proved to be a very controversial resource and this should not be the case. Sidney Jakachira wants to know whether you still stand by your position that the controversial diamond mining operations in Chiadzwa should be nationalised and his second question attached to that is how can the country avoid the controversy surrounding the way diamonds are mined and being sold right now?

Matombo: Right on the first question I need to say that our position is not necessarily the term nationalisation. Our position is control. What we are saying, and then that will answer the second question, what we are saying is that there should be a government policy in the respect of, not only to diamonds but to special, what we term the precious minerals.

Precious minerals are supposed to benefit Zimbabweans. What we are merely saying to government is that they should come up with a shareholding structure between the investor and government. We are even against what the AAG is saying because they are saying because we are Zimbabweans, so we want a stake into that.

This is wrong, this is greediness and for Zimbabweans what we are saying is let’s do it the way Botswana has done it. Let’s have that share holding structure between the private investor so that the Zimbabwean government would own say 50 per cent and the private investor would earn 50 per cent.

What we have as a percentage we are just giving this as a hypothetical picture but what we are saying is that the share holding structure should be between the two people – government and the private investor and then the policy framework in the mining industry should explain how we can monitor the value chain from the extraction of the mineral up until that value chain, the value system to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, to the fiscus.

This is what we want so that the minister of Finance will have access in all this. When we listen to his budget he says well the platinum got so much but what the government got was far, far below than what they are supposed to have. I mean in a country that is so poor and what it means is that these people are earning profits, profits that will benefit their countries of origin. Why should it be like that?

We want Zimbabweans to benefit out of this so that at the end of it all we will not only attract skilled personnel in the civil service or in the health sector, we will attract our own doctors who are outside Zimbabwe. We will attract our skilled people outside Zimbabwe. We need civil engineers, we need to develop our infrastructure and look, all these things are supposed to be done by government and if you are going to give your precious minerals to individuals, it’s just as good as taking it from Tom and giving it to Matombo and Matombo’s just become a fat cat, that does not benefit anybody, it doesn’t get us anywhere.

We will not support anybody just because he is black, a black African – no it has to go into the coffers of the fiscus, that is what we are saying about the diamonds and the rest of the precious minerals. This should be quite serious and simple. In fact the minister of Finance should come up with legislation if the minister of Mining cannot do that because ultimately it is him who should benefit on behalf of the country on the inflows arriving from the precious minerals.

This is a serious case and I tell you we are having sleepless nights; our civil servants are not being paid because there is no money yet Zimbabwe is the richest country, one of the richest countries in terms of its resources, with the poorest people. This is wrong and this is atrocious.

Guma: Well we are running out of time but maybe in one minute or so if you could answer the last question – it comes from Lindiwe Masocha from Bulawayo who wants to know the ZCTU position on the empowerment legislation? I’m sure you’ve touched on it with regard to the mining sector, but in general do you support current laws that indigenous Zimbabweans should own 51 per cent of companies? In a minute or so…

Matombo: Yah in fact there are indigenisation laws across Africa to try and correct the historical imbalances, but what this indigenisation law in practice aims to achieve is to fatten some few well known ZANU PF individuals, that’s all what it is and therefore it is not serving the purpose for which it was enacted. That’s pure and simple.

Guma: Well that’s the president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions Mr Lovemore Matombo joining us on Question Time and taking questions from the different corners of Zimbabwe. Mr Matombo, thank you so much for your time.

Matombo: You are most welcome.

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