What really happened in Zim – Seboni tells all
Cosatu’s 8th National Congress in 2003, resolved to send a fact finding mission to Zimbabwe. But when a 12-member delegation did this recently, the Zimbabwe government deported them. Leader of the delegation, Cosatu’s second Deputy President, Violet Seboni, tells all.
“Among others, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) briefed us on the way that the regime is perpetually disregarding and ignoring labour laws in that country.Although the Zimbabwean laws stipulate that a legitimate organisation such as the ZCTU must be allowed to engage in collective bargaining processes, agreements reached between employers and unions at such meetings are never gazetted – which means they can never be enforced.
The Public Order Security Act (POSA) … says that legitimate organisations can be allowed to hold meetings whenever they see fit – but union meetings are constantly disrupted by the government security police. The ZCTU has, a number of times, pulled out of that country’s tripartite forum, similar to our Nedlac, as agreements signed there with government are disregarded. The ZCTU almost got into trouble with its membership after it assured them, in line with the decisions of the forum, that no petrol hikes would take place. However the next morning the government said the opposite in the newspapers.
The union federation also told us of the hardships faced by millions of ordinary Zimbabweans who were now being forcefully removed from their land and houses by the so-called war veterans. These landowners are beneficiaries of the decolonised Zimbabwe that dawned in the early 1980s. Zimbabwe has no rules in place to protect the local labour market – something that has resulted in the informal sector growing at a faster rate than the formal sector. The unemployment rate is at 78% while inflation has rocketed to just over 300%. Stories on the regime’s disregard for freedom of organisation, human and trade union rights were still lingering in our minds when we experienced a closer shave with reality.
We discovered that the head offices of the federation were being ransacked by heavily armed security police, ready to interrupt the gathering. We would have continued with this potentially fruitful meeting, had members of the security police not stormed the room with a message: “The cabinet that met this morning has taken a decision that you must leave the country – now”. They escorted us to our rooms to fetch our belongings after which we were shoved into a bus and driven to the airport.
An ignorant spectator would be forgiven for mistaking us for a lethal missionary group that wanted to topple President Mugabe’s government. We were made to wait under a heavily armed police and soldier guard for hours, with no access to food or any help from concerned organisations. No flight was available for that day and the next flights were only going to be available the next day. Efforts by the South African High Commissioner and the ZCTU to see us, drew a blank. The authorities would not even allow them to bring us food after a five-hour wait, which was characterised by confrontation and intimidation.
We were however comforted by the news that the ZCTU lawyers had applied to the Zimbabwean High Court in a bid to prevent the government from deporting us. Our passports were taken, but it was when the members of the security police started demanding our air tickets that we said “enough is enough”. We made it clear in no uncertain terms that since it was their idea to deport us, it should also be their responsibility to meet the bill for transportation. That we won, but our pleas to at least allow us back to the airport until tomorrow fell on deaf ears. In fact, this was met with anger which resulted in an increase in the number of police and soldiers guarding us.This emotional harassment lasted for at least seven hours. The much awaited ruling on the ZCTU application forcing the government to allow us to stay until we had completed our mission, came at 21h00. This only made matter worse.
We were immediately escorted through the back exit of the airport where we found a bus and an ambulance parked. The message around the provision of the ambulance was clear: casualties resulting from any resistance would be “˜helped’. We were shoved into a bus on a trip to nowhere under the watchful eye of armed soldiers. There was a lot of panic, with some members of the delegation thinking that we were being taken to a secret location where we would be held hostage or worse, shot at. We drove through the bush the whole night at very high speed and we only realised that we were being taken to Beit Bridge when we were dumped there at 5h00 the next day. …We would have liked to meet all stakeholders in that country…. The deportation sends a clear message to the international community that the Zimbabwean government has a lot to hide. Our mission is accomplished.
… We will never rest until such time that the situation in Zimbabwe is brought back to order.
Seboni was speaking to Cosatu Weekly Editor, Moloto Mothapo
The plight of Zimbabwe workers
Wages are very low. Teachers are paid R500 per month. The lowest paid engineering worker is getting 380 000 Zimbabwean Dollars which is equivalent to R380 per month. Most companies are in bad shape because of a lack of foreign exchange to engage in international trade. Fuel shortages which are frequent affect the possibility of the industry to operate effectively.
Government has set up a splinter trade union federation as well as trade unions in companies that are organised by ZCTU affiliates.Government interferes in collective bargaining by ordering parties to settle or advise how management should accede to union demands.Four workers at Zisco Steel were shot dead four years ago while sitting peacefully during a wage strike. Most wage disputes are referred to compulsory arbitration by the Ministry of Labour which in turn will make any strike illegal after that.During the last parliamentary elections many union activists were beaten up for campaigning for the MDC.The government of Zimbabwe has in practice and through legislation shown disregard for the International Labour Organisation”˜s conventions, especially those on freedom of association, the right to strike and collective bargaining.
SACP on Zimbabwe” In developing our solidarity, we must guard against expecting our government to behave like a trade union movement…or Cosatu to behave like a government,” says Blade Nzimande, SACP general secretary.” We must also ensure that we do not allow tactical differences within our Alliance, for instance, to cloud and confuse us, and to become the main issue to the detriment of pursuing a converging strategic objective in Zimbabwe. The crisis is not in differences of tactics within our Alliance. The crisis is in Zimbabwe.”Nzimande said that government’s approach to securing free and fair elections should be supported. But for this to succeed pressure must also be put on “relevant formations in Zimbabwe”. And the alliance must condemn “anti-democratic measures and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. …We need to send a clear signal, not just to Zimbabwe, but to our own mass base about the moral and democratic foundations of our own revolution.” www.sacp.org.za (Taken from SACP’s website)
Please continue helping us I really wish that Cosatu would now realise the problems we are having in Zimbabwe with our president [Robert Mugabe] and his party [Zanu-PF]. They are killing us and destroying our country. We cry, but nobody hears. We are let down by President Mbeki who seems to be too frightened of the madman who rules our country.
Many ask, “Why do you not rise up and fight this evil?” The answer is straight fear. The secret police are everywhere, the ordinary police arrest the innocent when they make a complaint, and the Gezi Youths are allowed to murder and rape without punishment. You saw the fear of the Zimbabwe government when you sent a fact-finding delegation. They are terrified that the truth will get out. They are terrified that fellow Africans will see them for the monsters they really are. They have destroyed our independence and stolen our freedom. I appeal to you to do everything you can to help your brothers in Zimbabwe.
Charles Chakudunga (letter sent to Cosatu)