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Zimbabwe civic society leaders power hungry

By Paidamoyo Muzulu

The threatened split of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) last week reinforces the fact that civil society leaders are not ready to give up power when their tenure ends.

Lovemore Matombo
Lovemore Matombo

This has led to the formation of many splinter organisations, subsequently weakening civil society in the country. The country’s workers have been complaining about poor working conditions and low remuneration for the past two years and instead of concentrating on improving the employees’ conditions, the union leaders are busy creating their own fiefdoms.

After losing in the ZCTU elections in Bulawayo a fortnight ago, former president Lovemore Matombo and Raymond Majongwe, who contested the general secretary’s position, these leading contestants are now bent on leading a splinter faction.

The duo’s move has further diluted the labour unions’ strength and effectiveness after the formation of the government-backed Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions a few years ago to dilute the strength and influence of labour.

Matombo and Majongwe’s splinter group comprises 12 unions out of the 33 affiliates that form the ZCTU. They complained that most delegates that attended the congress were not bonafide members of the ZCTU.

Newly elected ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo has labelled the rebel group as divisive and lacking the support of genuine unions affiliated to the mother body.

The 12 rebel unions led by the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe include the Zimbabwe Energy workers’ Union, Zimbabwe Construction Workers’ Union, Zimbabwe Leather, Shoe and Allied Workers’ Union, Civil Service Employees’ Association, Zimbabwe Rural District Councils Workers’ Union, Zimbabwe Graphical Workers’ Union and the National Airways Workers’ Union.

The rebel group has been joined by the Medical Professionals and allied Workers’ Union, Zimbabwe Scientific and Education Workers’ Union, Mining General Workers’ Union and the Transport and General Workers’ Union.

“PTUZ was not allowed to participate in the congress because it was in subscription arrears,” said Moyo. “The four unions that purport to have joined Matombo and his group are not ZCTU members because their applications for affiliation are yet to be approved. The 12 unions that they claim to be disgruntled therefore do not exist.”

However, ousted president Lovemore Matombo argued that his faction has 70% support of all trade unions members affiliated to the ZCTU.

“Of the total 36 unions in ZCTU, we control 12,” Matombo said, “These unions have about 100 000 members out of the 160 000 within ZCTU,” said Matombo.

The ZCTU’s split evokes memories of similar splits within civil society in general over power wrangles. Alfred Makwarimba and Joseph Chinotimba lead the ZFTU and workers in that union have lived to tell the tale. Unlike the formation of the ZFTU, the ZCTU splintered in pursuit of personal glory and power by the leadership.

There was no ideological or policy direction debates before or after the congress. The leaders are therefore seeking power for the sake of power itself. The further disintegration of trade unions further erodes the workers’ power to push for better conditions in an economy still tottering on the brink. Workers have to swim on their own from the deep end against powerful and sometimes arrogant employers.

A senior employers’ union leader decried the demise of labour unions as making collective bargaining difficult.

“The ZCTU split will disturb the Tripartite Negotiations Forum meeting slated for next month simply because we are not sure which group to deal with,” the leader said. Political analyst Dewa Mavhinga said the trend was bad for the country and showed lack of democratic credentials among civil society leaders.

“Democratic principles and values are not easy to live by, even for those championing democratic governance, hence the squabbles soon after or before elective congresses,” said Mavhinga.

Mavhinga took a swipe at leaders who manipulated their organisation’s constitutions to cling onto power after the end of their terms.

“The culture of elevating individuals ahead of institutions and subverting institutional democratic principles to safeguard individual interests is deep-seated. It will take time to uproot,” Mavhinga said.

Social and media analyst Earnest Mudzengi agreed with Mavhinga that organisations should look beyond personalities and remain true to their founding principles. “Personalities must be put aside and the founding principles of the union must be held supreme,” Mudzengi said.

The ZCTU phenomenon is not new to Zimbabwe as exemplified by past incidents in organisations such as Zimrights and the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists. Zimrights is still hamstrung from the split of the late 1990s when David Chimhini was ousted as chairman and he went on to form a new organisation Zimcet which he said would champion civic education.

The analysts agree that the multiplication of civil society organisations in the country was bad for development. They argue that this unnecessarily wasted resources as work was duplicated without achieving much on the ground.

Mudzengi said: “It is unfortunate that the ZCTU has been afflicted by these divisions and squabbles and this is quite retrogressive.”

Civil society leaders are known to have manipulated constitutions, controlled lists of delegates attending congresses or as a last resort contest the outcomes of the elections. This is done with the aim of entrenching one’s position in the organisation. The retention of power in civil society at all costs has been linked to control of donor resources and as a political grooming school.

The emergence of the MDC in 1999 and its role in the current coalition government has tempted many civil society leaders to join politics. The MDC leadership comprises former trade unionists, civil society leaders, student leaders and academics. To many from these institutions, it gave hope that they can also make it in national politics.

The splits, however, remain a very sad indictment on the careers of those civil society leaders when they graduate into national politics if they will ever allow to be removed from power once they assume it. This may be the crucial moment for civil society to do soul searching and remain committed to their founding principles to make Zimbabwe a better country.

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