By Lenin Tinashe Chisaira (@LeninChisaira)
The ruling by the full bench of the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe on Friday (17 July 2015) in Don Nyamande and Another v Zuva Petroleum (Pvt) Ltd signaled the temporary sorry climax to a spate of direct attacks on the country’s poor as well as on workplace democracy and any other slight gains of working class struggles in Zimbabwe.
In the judgement, the court ruled that employers had the right to terminate a worker’s contract on a mere three month’s notice without offering any package.In that regard, termination on notice became the cheapest way of firing workers in a impoverished country that used to have very progressive labour laws..The ruling came in a year that scarred by naked butchery of vendor rights, arrests of the leadership of the National Vendor’s Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) as well as the perpetual confusing statements on the kidnapping of Occupy Africa Unity Square activist Itai Dzamara. The ruling provided a serious yet interesting challenge on all genuine activists, trade unions and economic justice groups in the country.
A Forgotten History on Labour Rights
There comes a time in each struggle where a certain side wins, or falls into a historic defeat. As a human rights/economic justice activist and a law graduate, I am one of the people who were proud of the progressive nature of Zimbabwean labour laws. The Labour Act [Chapter 28:01] was a pride of the working class movements since the days it was spearheaded by then leftist parliamentarians like Munyaradzi Gwisai. Now the Supreme Court’s ruling has set to reverse the hard work of illustrious past legislatures through the mere strokes of a few pens writing on a wooden court bench carved by the former settler-capitalist economy and currently polished by our black neo-liberal regime.
To analysts and pro-worker lawyers, the ruling was not surprising. It has always been an unspoken rule among activist corridors that when it comes to labour rights and the courts, the higher one goes, the more likely workers will get sacrificed. Maybe it is because business and political interests have more to lose from judiciary decisions at the top of the judiciary food chain than at the base. We hope it’s not a situation of “In Marikana they use bullets; here they use the Supreme Court”.
The ruling almost made a direct mockery of the socio-economic justice aspirations of Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution. The constitution had some commendable provisions on the right to a just footing between workers and employers when it comes to working conditions and collective bargaining over wages, retrenchments and other conditions. Section 65 (4) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) Act, 2013 provides that “Every employee is entitled to just, equitable and satisfactory conditions of work” and at sub-section (5) (a), “…every employee, employer, trade union, and employers’ organisation has the right to engage in collective bargaining”. However, even though the Constitution is self-explanatory, the battle-lines have been drawn. The labour regime is set to become more fascist and neo-liberal if the body of activists in the country fail to rise up to the occasion.
Re-Thinking Struggle Alliances and Strategies
Human rights and democracy activists, socio-economic justice groups and trade unions in Zimbabwe need to engage in a serious introspection of the work and services they currently provide, as compared to the real needs, troubles and aspirations of the peoples and memberships they claim to represent. It is unfortunate that the lawyer who helped deliver the fatal blow on labour justice was none other than “Advocate” Nelson Chamisa. The man seem to forget that he is a beneficiary of a political party that rose from the grievances and tears of the labour movement, in the name of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). I am sure the comrades at ZCTU, the Concerned Affiliates and Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) and any other serious-minded union are enraged at the betrayal.
Some, who say the man was only doing his job, need to be reproached for the absurdity of such ill-reasoning. A similar excuse was surely the shield for black soldiers who fought on the sides of the Rhodesian Army and Intelligence and claimed to be “only doing their jobs”. There is no legitimate excuse in defending a person, lawyer or not, who burns the midnight candle, perusing over counter-progressive precedents with the sole intention of defeating “the working class”, which is the very root of any democratic society. Like one of my friends, a young leader and worker Lloyd said to me just yesterday, “The people we look up to and whom we have come to admire as leaders, have actually sent shock waves across the country, but for the wrong reasons”
The ruling and the accompanying attacks on vendors and other activists call for more than introspection. Activists need to re-think their strategies and alliances. The Zuva Petroleum (Pvt) Ltd ruling should not be allowed to be a neo-liberal tombstone that blocks the way of democrats, workers and human rights activists in their resolute march towards true economic and social justice. Rather this is the right time for re-strategising, re-thinking and re-building the pillars of the movement for human rights and socio-economic justice.
The time calls on genuine human rights, socio-economic justice activists, labour lawyers and civil society to pick a side because the battle drums are sounding. In the words of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality”. The Fight is on. It’s time to pick the pro-poor and working class side! Solidarity Forever!