Are we truly living in the same country with those who claim to be our leaders, or do they exist in a parallel universe, that renders them detached from the realities of what is transpiring in the land they purport to be in charge of?
This is a very serious question – as most of the decisions, actions, and pronouncements by the Zimbabwe government leave a large section of the population in bewilderment, because these appear emanating from people with scant understanding, or regard, of the livelihoods they would like to believe they are leading.
The latest, in a myriad of similar wacky and weird pronouncements by the government (that I would have easily considered exceedingly hilarious, had real human lives not been at the receiving end), was the irresponsible declaration that teachers, who were merely exercising their Section 65 constitutional right to demand “fair and safe labour practices and standards and to be paid a fair and reasonable wage”, by “participating in collective job action, including the right to strike, sit in, withdraw their labour and to take other similar concerted action”, were holding their employer at ransom.
In fact, before I proceed, it is amazing how our constitution is so magnificent, that it even provides us with suggestions of the various types of collective job action options that we have on the table!
Thus, it is more than puzzling why the country’s leaders would feel “held at ransom”, when teachers – or any other employees – decide to simply exercise what is clearly laid down in the supreme law of the land.
Considering that, ransom is money paid for the freeing of a hostage, one would ask: “who is being held hostage here?”
History will tell us that, teachers are not asking for anything more than what their employer – the Zimbabwe government – already owes them.
Teachers, just like all other civil servants, have not been demanding a salary increment, or any undue favors – all that they want are their legally-binding, and contractually-entitled salaries – which stood at a monthly average of US$520, as at October 2018.
This has been the salary agreed upon by teachers and their employer – yet, why is it that, today, the same teacher is receiving an average of US$45 per month…what happened to the rest – US$475, to be precise?
Are these hardworking men and women – who sacrifice everything to provide us with the schooling and learning that helps sharp our great nation – not justified in demanding what is legitimately owed them by their bosses?
Is the government of Zimbabwe not the one at fault here, as they are the ones who reneged on their contractual agreements?
As a matter of fact, it is illegal for an employer to reduce an employee’s wages without his or her (employee’s) express consent – but, that is exactly what happened with civil servants, who have had to endure unlivable salaries, for the past two years after several monetary decisions by those in authority, with the removal of the 1:1 parity rate between the US dollar and the local Bond Note, as well as the ill-conceived reintroduction of the unstable and unreliable Zimbabwe dollar, resulting in its lightning devaluation…at the moment roving around 1:82.
Which, effectively, severely eroded civil servants’ – and everyone else’s – salaries and their purchasing power – a situation worsened by a hyperinflationary economic environment, that is currently officially estimated at 700% per annum, one of the highest in the world.
How then, is anyone, honestly, expected to survive on US$45 a month? Even with the additional monthly US$75 so-called ‘cost of living adjustment’ allowance, and the 40% laughable increment offer – no normal human being can be expected to sustain a decent livelihood, especially under such an economically hostile environment.
Therefore, who is holding whom, at ransom here?
Instead of admitting that they are the perpetrators of this gross injustice, and are in the wrong – in fact, are in breach of the country’s labour laws – the government should put away its distasteful arrogance and self-importance, but actually humble themselves, by negotiating in good faith, whilst acknowledging that they owe their employees.
Attempting to play the ‘hostage card’ is not going to pass. Each teacher is being cruelly prejudiced about US$475 each and every month, and the employer needs to be held accountable – and claiming that there is no money is the lamest excuse ever known to mankind.
If the government can afford to charter private jets for the presidium, or squander over US$60 million in dubious COVID-19 PPEs (personal protective equipment) deals, coupled with reports of the battering of diamonds and other minerals, in exchange for weapons of war, during peacetime (without any credible evidence of such a threat occuring in the foreseeable future), and the doubling of security sector salaries at the exclusion of everyone else – how is any logical person expected to accept such excuses?
Teachers, and other civil servants, are actually the ones who have been held hostage by the government for the past two years – if not, for the last two decades, since they have received the short and dirty end of the stick for far too long…and it is about time they fearlessly and relentlessly stood up for what is rightfully theirs.
As I have always said, a bully is only given power by the coward – and, once those he or she is bullying finally decide to stand up and resist without any faltering, they effectively take away that power.
It is now up to the teachers to prove that they know what their service is worth.
If they believe it is worth US$45 per month, then, please, by all means, go back to work. However, even a street vendor knows how much his or her crate of eggs is worth…US$3, and will never accept anything less.
© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263733399640 / +263715667700, or Calls Only: +263782283975, or email: [email protected]Post published in: Featured