Democracy and Workers Rights in Zimbabwe

Feb 28, 2018

From HIV education to labour and human rights advocacy

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has been fighting for workers’ rights in Zimbabwe for nearly forty years. Union Aid Abroad APHEDA began working with the ZCTU in 2000 on education, policy and support for workers with HIV. In 2005, along with international trade unions, APHEDA began assisting ZCTU with their campaigns for worker’s rights and democratic rights. APHEDA now supports the advocacy desk at ZCTU, to further the objectives of ZCTU in labour rights education, human rights awareness, democratic constitution, public policy advocacy and peacebuilding.

Mugabe, the 2017 Military Coup and Mnangagwa

After 2000, the Mugabe regime became more and more undemocratic and kleptocratic. During this time, the unions became pivotal forces in fighting for decent incomes for workers in the formal and informal economy. Unions in Zimbabwe have been a key voice for demanding a democratic constitution, press freedom and free speech.

In the last months, Zimbabwe has undergone a historic change, with a military coup that finally led to President Mugabe stepping down in November 2017. ZCTU joined with other civil society organisations to call for President Mugabe’s resignation.

Advocacy for democracy and workers’ rights has continued even after Mugabe’s resignation. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the current President, still represents the continuity of the military security apparatus and the ruling party.

Zimbabwe’s political scene underwent further change earlier this month. On 14 February 2018, Morgan Tsvangirai, former Secretary-General of the ZCTU and leader of the main opposition party, died in South Africa.  (read ZCTU’s statement).

Rising cost of living

In 2017 the replacement of USD with two “virtual” currencies affected workers badly; workers are paid electronically and can use bank cards in shops but the lack of actual currency is a real problem for most wage workers. When they are paid, wages are nowhere near adequate for the rising cost of living. Millions of Zimbabwean workers remain in South Africa, Botswana or other countries.

Street vendors

ZCTU has been campaigning for the rights of informal economy workers, in particular street vendors, who have been menaced by the government and removed from the cities, losing their livelihoods without access to other means of living. In January, ZCTU stood with street vendors and supported their 48-hour ultimatum to the government to create employment so that they could leave the streets.

Continuing the fight for workers’ rights and democracy in 2018

The new president has said that there will be free and fair elections in Zimbabwe this year. But the unions and civil society organisations in Zimbabwe need to remain active to fight for a genuinely democratic process.

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