Back to Index
labour - a hidden wrong
Extracted from the IBA Human Rights Violations in Zimbabwe supplement
is a Zimbabwean international trade lawyer who has works for an
international organisation in Geneva that assists developing countries
to defend their interests before the WTO. The views expressed in
this short opinion are the personal views of the author.
Robert Mugabe’s disputed victory, the Zanu PF government has gained
in brute strength and overwhelming confidence. In its increasingly
successful bid to further shrink the democratic space, it has come
up with legal precedents of such intellectual dishonesty, and legislation
of such outlandish ludicrousness as to be hysterically funny, were
the consequences not so farreaching.
The true horror of the current Zimbabwean government is that it
is deliberately fostering a situation where notions of human decency
are debased, and where this debasement is celebrated. In my view,
the policy that best illustrates the moral bankruptcy of this regime
is one that has received little, if any, attention in the media,
namely, the use of forced labour on redistributed farms. The Minister
of Justice, Patrick Chinamasa, confirmed in a report in the state
daily, The Herald of 19 November 2004, that through the Zimbabwe
Prison Service, the government has been offering ‘new farmers’ prisoners
to work on their farms.
There can be
no question that such a programme of lending out prisoners as labourers
to farmers is morally repugnant in the extreme. To force prisoners
to work for the personal enrichment and profit of individuals and
companies amounts to sanctioning slave labour
for international standards
Rather than address unemployment, especially among dispossessed
former farm labourers, the Zimbabwean government encourages the
use of unpaid prisoners. The policy confirms the greed and hypocrisy
of a regime that is so niggardly that it will institute state-sanctioned
slavery rather than pay a decent wage to farm labourers.
It is a perfect
example of the myopic and poorly thought-out policies that are a
hallmark of this regime. It bears testimony to the contempt for
international standards and norms that is typical of this government.
Labour Organisation (ILO), of which Zimbabwe is a member, has strict
standards prohibiting such use of prison labour.The ILO Convention
Against Forced Labour stipulates clearly that authorities ‘shall
not impose or permit the imposition of forced or compulsory labour
for the benefit of private individuals, companies or associations’.
Zimbabwe ratified this treaty in 1998. By ratifying this treaty,
the Zimbabwean government understood that it is immoral for private
individuals to profit from labour performed by prisoners.
And yet, in defiance of its own consent to be bound by this international
treaty, the Zimbabwean government has decided that shortterm expediency
should trump its international obligations. Answering questions
before Parliament on 17 November 2004, the Minister of Justice informed
parliament that his Ministry had for the time being suspended the
programme ‘pending a policy framework which would be used should
farmers require prison labour’. At no point did the Minister explain
what must be known to him, that this scheme is a violation of Zimbabwe’s
international obligations. On the contrar y, the minister assured
colleagues that the necessary framework having been put in place,
the programme would be resumed. At the same parliamentary session,
Zanu PF parliamentarians bemoaned the suspension of this programme
in view of the urgency of the fact that the tobacco crop was soon
to be harvested.
And there we have the crux of the problem. The very people responsible
for the implementation of Zimbabwe’s international obligations in
this regard are themselves beneficiaries of the violation of those
obligations. The Minister of Justice, officials in his ministry
and in the Attorney General’s office, government ministers, several
judges and parliamentarians have all benefited from the land reform
programme. Is it not likely that these are the very same people
benefiting from prison labour?
ban to follow?
It appears to have occurred to noone that if prison labour is used
in the farming of tobacco, the country’s chief agricultural export,
Zimbabwe’s trading partners would be well within their rights to
ban the sale of such tobacco. Rather than ensuring the prosperity
of the new farmers, this ill-advised scheme risks alienating Zimbabwe’s
tobacco and other agricultural products from the international market.
When this happens one can be almost certain that the Zimbabwean
government will point the blame to some western conspiracy against
a Zimbabwean it is painful to me to realise that human rights standards
in my country have been so debased that no one questions the morality
of this scheme of slave labour. The current situation in Zimbabwe
is not new: the abuse of prisoners for personal gain merely illustrates
the ruling elite’s worldview in which the poor and the vulnerable
exist only to further the interests of this elite. If the Zimbabwe
government is willing to bypass international obligations that it
signed up to in this cavalier manner, what hope is there that it
will implement to the letter the SADC Protocol on electoral standards?
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.