By Alex Bell
Police in Harare on Wednesday interrupted Workers Day celebrations at Raylton Sports Club, accusing the organisers of holding the event without permission.
The event was organised by the Concerned Affiliates of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. But not long after the commemorations for the day had begun, police disrupted proceedings and demanded to speak to the organising team.
According to Jeremiah Bamu of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the police instructed the organisers to call off the event, allegedly because they did not have permission. When the organisers refused to do so, the police left and threatened to return with reinforcements.
But when they eventually returned about three hours later, the commemorations were over. The incident added a level of discord to an already somber Workers Day mood, with many saying there is little for workers to celebrate in Zimbabwe at the moment.
Unemployment is still estimated to stand at about 90%, numerous key industries have collapsed or are facing collapse, and most state workers are still earning a fraction of what would constitute a fair wage.
In Bulawayo, where the day’s commemorations were held at White City Stadium, workers bemoaned the fact that the once vibrant industrial hub of Zimbabwe no longer exists, as well as the hardships they continue to face. Union groupings said they were marking the day, not as a celebration, but as a chance to air their grievances.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) President George Nkiwane, said in a speech read on his behalf at the Bulawayo event, that there was little to celebrate. His speech, which he themed ‘Workers Under Siege, Organise, Unite and Fight On’, highlighted the serious problems still facing workers.
“It is unfortunate that we are meeting at a time when we all thought the livelihoods of the majority of all Zimbabwean would have improved, but the opposite is what we are witnessing. Low wages in both the public and private sector are the order of the day.
“The situation has not changed much from last year: the Poverty Datum Line is still close to US$600. Wages average between US$150 and US$200 and there are widespread disputes over wage negotiations and workers are resorting to the courts to try to settle disputes as most employers refuse pay agreed industrial minimums,” Nkiwane’s speech stated.
SW Radio Africa’s Bulawayo correspondent, Lionel Saungweme, joined the White City Stadium event on Wednesday, saying “the poor attendance at this event over the years summarises everything about May Day in Zimbabwe.”
“Gone are the days when labour leaders like Morgan Tsvangirai used to fill up the stadiums on Workers Day. Now just a few hundred people come,” Saungweme said.
He explained that thousands of people have been left unemployed because of the deindustrialisation witnessed in Bulawayo, and there is little hope for the future. He said companies across the city are “being sold and stripped, even some parastatals.”
He added: “Really there is nothing to celebrate.” SW Radio Africa