Former Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) secretary-general, Wellington Chibebe (WC), last week told NewsDay the current fissures at the labour body were nothing new.
Chibebe said the disturbances should only be seen as humps and not a detour, insisting they were short-lived.
NewsDay’s Senior Parliamentary Reporter, Veneranda Langa (ND), caught up with Chibebe to discuss his experiences as ZCTU boss, the current squabbling at the labour body as well as his new posting in Brussels.
The following are excerpts:
ND: During your term of office as ZCTU secretary-general, what were your trials and tribulations?
WC: I came into office after an election in Masvingo. Immediately after the election results were announced, and moreso since I did not come from the favoured group, the issue of company invasions was introduced the very week I came into office. The purpose was to scare us from office and that was the beginning of my brush with the authorities. It became more pronounced during the May Day celebrations of 2001 when war veterans’ leader, Joseph Chinotimba came in a police vehicle and they wanted to chuck us out of the stadium. We refused but, after that the situation became worse and there was shrinking space to try and curtail the labour movement and democratic forces from operating. That was the time when the Public Order and Security Act was also introduced in 2002. Since that time I became a victim of incessant arrests.
In 2003 we had the Labour Relations Act, which incorporated government workers, but that was undone in 2005. More oppressive laws like the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act were introduced and the State became more vicious against labour movements. It was a challenge to resolve employer-employee issues in that environment. Some bogus labour organisations were also formed to try and destablise the ZCTU.
However, we had successes in terms of fighting for better packages for some employees, for example, the ZBC saga as well as the introduction of 98 days’ maternity leave for women instead of 75 days, as well as advocating for better conditions for contract workers.
ND: Is the current squabbling at the ZCTU something new and what are your comments on the constitutionality of the Bulawayo congress as well as allegations there was vote rigging?
WC: This is not anything new. In 2005 we survived the onslaught by government when some “so- called” ZCTU affiliates started disrupting meetings and it is unfortunate such disgruntlements had to spill over into this era. If you go to 2005 newspapers, you will note that there is nothing new pertaining to the squabbles.
What is surprising about the allegations of vote-rigging is that they are coming from colleagues who were part and parcel of the congress journey from the date of announcing up to the congress. We had follow-up meetings in terms of congress preparations on July 9, July 30 and August 13 and it was unanimously agreed by the national council that the congress should take place. What is surprising is that while we were busy with the congress preparations, our colleagues knew that they had already approached the courts on August 12 to stop the congress.
My respectful plea is that if there are any problems; why not let the courts decide on the constitutionality of the congress? Rigging is also an opinion and again that issue should be decided by the courts. What we noticed was that our colleagues were scared of what they perceived as defeat before the congress and they had to manufacture these allegations.
ND: Can you please comment on allegations you have been too powerful and might try to influence ZCTU decisions from your new post in Brussels?
WC: The aspect of a secretary-general being too powerful is imaginary. It is common knowledge that I had acquired the nickname “Vatican” because people considered me too soft and a person who could be abused. The reverse is true and those people who claim I am too powerful are in fact the people who are too powerful in their own unions to the point that a president is also the secretary-general.
Controlling the ZCTU from Brussels is a joke because once I leave this office I am going to be an employee of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) on a full-time basis and the contract that I will sign will not allow me to meddle in any business of ZCTU. It is just ignorance on the part of those people. There were also allegations that I was refusing to vacate office, but I had already submitted my notice of resignation.
I am very confident that the new crop of leaders in the ZCTU is capable of delivering. I will not interfere with their work just as the other cadres who left the baton stick to me did not interfere with mine.
ND: What is the way forward in solving the problems bedevilling ZCTU?
WC: The problems have already been solved by congress. Any allegations should be made in a sane manner and not with hidden agendas. I vividly see a hidden hand behind this whole fiasco, but I am confident workers’ causes will prevail. As I saidbefore, there is nothing new about the current upheavals because such things happened in 2005 and 2006 but the ZCTU has continued despite the problems.
ND: There are also allegations there is a staggering $769 000 deficit incurred during your tenure. Whats your comment?
WC: That one is very mischievous because ZCTU finances are subject to audit and are approved by relevant committees like administration and finance committee, the executive committee, the general council and the national congress. Ever since I have been in this office we have had audits every year, which are subject to scrutiny by the general council. We experienced financial difficulties during the period before dollarisation and ZCTU like any organisation, found itself with a zero balance.
ND: Tell us about your new post in Brussels?
WC: I will be joining the ICTU as deputy secretary-general and it is a global body of trade unions and ZCTU is an affiliate. The ZCTU will benefit in that it has huge support in terms of funding of programmes by the ICTU. I will be responsible for the Development Cooperation Solidarity Fund and the ZCTU has benefited a lot in the past from those programmes. Definitely the ZCTU and Zimbabwean workers will benefit.