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Monitor - Issue 190
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
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Up to about
two decades ago, Workers’ Day, also known as May Day was like
a second Christmas for many Zimbabweans. That is all history.
parts of the country, vans showcasing products of various companies
would create a spectacle as they made their way to local stadia,
dishing out products to people lining along the roads. After Christmas
Day, The Workers’ Day was the next big deal on the calendar.
And, of course,
during those days President Robert Mugabe would sit and deliver
speeches side by side with men like Morgan Tsvangirai and the late
Gibson Sibanda, then powerful trade union leaders with a leaning
towards the then ruling ZANU PF party. As Zimbabwe joins the world
in commemorating Workers Day on Wednesday, all this seems a distant,
fading memory – with a huge part of the population under 20
years only getting to know such a Zimbabwe once existed through
How things change.
Now a Prime
Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai left trade unionism for opposition politics
in 1999 and turned into a fierce critic of President Mugabe. In
2009 he joined President Mugabe in government as a reluctant coalition
expected when the two men cross swords again in presidential elections
scheduled for later this year. The two are yet to agree on a date,
making the exact timing of the watershed poll uncertain.
But on May 1,
one thing is certain. No fireworks will go off. There will be no
With 70 percent
of people estimated to be formally unemployed, very few Zimbabweans
still identify with a day which used to be marked with pomp and
labour unions, the few workers toiling in industry and government
service for low pay are regularly suffering abuse of their rights.
But the majority
of Zimbabweans remotely connect to such talk. Many say they will
not even “take advantage” of the public holiday. “I
have to do this everyday otherwise my family will starve. There
are no jobs out there so we have to work ourselves,” says
an air time vendor who chose to be identified only as “Nhekairo.”
With the spectacular
collapse of the economy largely credited to haphazard government
policies, Zimbabwe has turned into one huge informal economy.
of jobs have to hustle on the streets selling anything from airtime
and sweets to skin lightening creams and medicines. In the rural
and farming communities, many have resorted to risky “professions”
like gold panning, poaching and commercial sex work as poverty bites
33 years after independence from Britain. While government officials
gloat about the success of the often violent land reform programme,
figures recently released by government agency, the Zimbabwe National
Statistics Agency (ZimStat) paint a grim picture.
The report notes
that poverty is far worse in rural areas, where the majority of
Zimbabweans live, than in urban areas.
observed that 62,6 percent of Zimbabwean households are deemed poor
while 16, 2 percent of the households are in extreme poverty,”
states the ZimStat report. “The key finding is that poverty
is more widespread and prevalent in Zimbabwe’s rural areas
than urban areas. About 76 percent of rural households are poor
compared to 38, 2 percent in urban areas.”
who in normal circumstances should be enjoying their sunset years
after building a comfortable pension, are hardest hit, according
to the report.
households in Zimbabwe are characterised by high dependency ratios,
and, on average, older heads of households are associated with higher
prevalence of poverty than younger heads of household,” states
the report, which notes that access to employment for the household
head is closely associated with household poverty status.
rural and urban areas, households headed by an own account worker
are more likely to be affected by a high poverty incidence. Casual
or temporary workers, similarly, suffer from high rates of poverty,”
reads the report, noting that households headed by a permanently
paid employee or employer have the lowest likelihood to be poor.
is not stopping labour federations from organising what are likely
to be low key events to mark the day.
As part of preparations,
labour union leaders will probably have an army of lawyers on standby
as it has become routine for police to pounce on events to mark
Such is the
fate of the Zimbabwean worker, as highlighted by an International
Labour Organisation report, which stated that there was “a
clear pattern of arrests, detentions, violence and torture by the
security forces against trade unionists that coincide with Zimbabwe
Congress of Trade Unions nationwide events, indicating that
there has been some centralised direction to the security forces
to take such action.”
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