ZCTU lays bare govt’s mortal fear

GOVERNMENT this week went hysterical about a seemingly innocuous event by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) to hand over petitions to parliament and to employers.

fy>It implausibly upgraded the planned two-hour lunchtime marches to “strikes”, then to “mass action” and finally an attempt by the labour union to effect “regime change”. Meanwhile, since last week, state security agencies were issuing threats and warnings to the ZCTU leadership that the marches would degenerate into an orgy of looting and destruction of property. By Wednesday they were on full red alert.

Government spin-doctors and thought police were unrelenting in trying to recruit employers into the state camp where the malleable and suborned Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions was putting up a shoddy show to convince the workers that their welfare was not as grave as the ZCTU was averring and that government was addressing their problems.

Any labour body that defends state repression of workers is a disgrace to trade unionism.

There was all the evidence of an elaborate plan to deal with civil unrest that was only manifest in the insecure minds of paranoid leaders.

On the ground in Harare on Wednesday, police closed off roads and turned away vehicles trying to drive into the city centre. There were roadblocks on most roads leading into the centre of the capital. Police patrolled the streets ready to deal with mass action that never took place.

It was all an exercise in futility. The frantic activity by government and the police regarding the ZCTU march attracted more international media attention than the supposed event. Several of the reports referred to the presence of the ruling party’s youth militia.

But not to be outdone, state papers yesterday carried celebratory headlines on the flopped mass action employing their favourite expression: a “damp squib”. The enemy had been defeated because the workers had heeded government’s call to ignore the mass action.

But this was a pyrrhic victory for the state. If anything, the ZCTU succeeded in laying bare the Zanu PF government’s insecurity and its mortal fear of “what might just happen”.

The state has over the past five years adopted a laager mentality in which it has tried to close off potential channels of dissent. The psyche of President Mugabe’s government has been tuned to achieve conformity and deal ruthlessly with balking sections of society, hence the enactment of draconian laws like Posa and Aippa.

The strong-arm tactics and fixation with regime change have been monumental public relations faux pas by the state. The mobilisation of security agents to deal with workers trying to hand over mere petitions containing their grievances, the deportation of a South African delegation and the arrest of labour leaders painted a picture of a dictatorship wracked with fear of opposition shadows.

The Zanu PF government has over the past two weeks worked enthusiastically to show the world that it does not uphold the basic tenets of good governance like citizens’ right to hold demonstrations or petition the state. Members of Woza were on Tuesday rounded up, beaten and detained at Harare Central for demonstrating against poor service delivery by the Harare Commission. That’s the kind of news that puts off tourists and would-be investors.

Any investor will tell you that a government that does not tolerate dissent from workers will not stomach protestations from business either. As we have always said, the Zanu PF government is the architect of our misery and not the media recording the facts on the ground.

The ZCTU lunchtime marches were therefore a success in as far as they advertised our rulers’ ingrained fear of their compatriots. A government in this mode is a danger to development because it feels bound to invest in its own security at the expense of spending on employment creation and poverty alleviation.

As a motion before the European parliament noted last week, the amount the government is appealing for (US$257 million) in its United Nations-sponsored humanitarian appeal is not so far removed from the $240 million it has spent on Chinese warplanes.

A government obsessed by fear of its own people voicing their concerns loses its legitimacy to govern. That is the story of the Zanu PF government today.