By Pauline Hurungudo
President Emmerson Mnangagwa ignored advice from a South Africa-based local businessman that a wage hike was the best way to deal with public sector union grievances, and that a failure to award an increment would have a messy aftermath.
This emerges as Zimbabwe’s main teacher unions unfurled a general strike Monday that has shut down public schools, in a protest demanding wage rises and remuneration in US dollars amid skyrocketing inflation and a deepening economic crisis that has disrupted supplies of fuel and medicines.
The strike is meant to be indefinite, but it is likely to last no more than a week since the government typically order workers back to work and both sides back to the negotiation table. Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) – the largest teachers’ union – said in a circular to members: “Stay home, be safe.
Don’t be intimidated by police and CIOs (Central Intelligence Organisation).” So far the strike has seen teachers staying away while some are pitching up for sit-in protests.
The teachers’ strike comes after violent protests that began mid-January after a sharp raise in fuel prices, before developing into a broader revolt against the government that mobilised tens of
thousands of demonstrators nationwide.
Ahead of both strike actions, businessman Frank Buyanga wrote to Mnangagwa in a last-ditch effort to avert a strike by proposing a hike in salaries, but it seems the president did not fully comprehend the repercussions.
The businessman suggested that the minimum wage increases be tied to inflation. But Mnangagwa threw caution to the wind, and walked away from a proposal that represented a responsible response for civilservice wages.
The maverick businessman urged government to raise wages in a bid to prevent the meagre income of public sector workers becoming a source of anger for citizens.
In a letter to Mnangagwa, he warned that the hike will preempt “the game by your opposition. “Your Excellency, our economy can and will be better. It is my firm belief that there are those waiting to see Zimbabwe gets into turmoil and blame you. Mr President, it is my humble suggestion that you increase the salaries of our civil servants with immediate effect,” the letter said.
“This can be communicated at a selected location with all local and international media present. Mr President, Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina have as an example, Your Excellency, increased salaries of their people in the midst of a devastating economic crisis.”
The letter to Mnangagwa added: “The first thought that comes to mind is what will come of our inflation figures as a state, but I would like to stress that whilst inflation is an evil there may be short term good in inflation. Ours is a man-made crisis, that we will overcome. “Mr President, with this move you are preempting the game by your opposition.
They have indicated that they want to destabilise your leadership through demonstrations but with this, they will be neutralized.” The letter said the economy is being held hostage mainly by “private sector malpractice” hinging on corrupt public officials “who think it is business as usual as continue with impunity destroying our country.”
“If the government increases the wages of its workforce, the private sector has no choice but to follow suit. This again can be chartered through government or business dialogue. There is an effervescence in the private sector – a gradual but definite shift to dollarise the
Mr President, Zimbabwe’s capacity to generate foreign currency through exports, is still low and inadequate to meet demand.” That plea was ignored by Mnangagwa – until last month when it became apparent those warnings had substance.
The country has since been convulsed by rolling protests, with social media-inspired groups of social justice warriors advocating for more protests. All of this could have been avoided had Mnangagwa followed the advice to legislate increases in a careful and measured pattern. DailyNews