Noah Bikita (42) is a former Detroop Mine workers committee chairman. He worked at the mine as a driver and is now paying the price for standing for workers’ rights in 2016, as he is out of employment.
BY NHAU MANGIRAZI
Bikita has since retired to his rural homested in Dete under Chief Kazangarare after he was fired for inciting workers to demand better working conditions of service and a higher pay at the mine.
For the second year, he is on the sidelines as workers commemorate International Workers Day today.
Bikita’s major complaint against the mine hinged on the failure to observe national holidays, he also exposed the lack of protective clothing, including worksuits, gumboots and masks to protect workers from underground dust.
“Workers were not being paid for leave days accrued, although they were forced to work for long periods without going on leave. I am out of employment for that,” he told NewsDay.
A married father of six, Bikita is now relying on communal farming at his six-hectare plot under Headman Nzaradzepatsva.
He has no regrets as this is the reality in most Zimbabwean mines operated by the Chinese.
His crime of exposing Chinese employers’ on a litany of allegations of exploitation,and violation of labour and environmental laws at the Mashonaland West project later backfired.
He said senior managers at the mine demanded $50 from casual workers monthly as “job security” amid allegations that some government officials were bribed to turn a blind eye to the rampant abuses.
Detroop, situated about 170km north-west of Harare under Chief Magonde in Makonde district along Angwa River, is run by China’s Jiangxi Risheng Mining Company.
Female workers were so underpaid that they even got less than their male counterparts doing the same work.
“As women we do not have protective clothing although we work in the laboratory, where we use chemicals,” said one of the female employees.
Villagers living around the mine also complained of cyanide overflows that affected their cattle and that spurred environment management agency (EMA) to institute investigations.
Cyanide prevents cells from using oxygen to make energy molecules and acts as an irreversible enzyme inhibitor and is toxic to both humans and animals according to scientific explanations.
“We have lost cattle over cyanide that flows along Angwa River and the Chinese are above the law,” Makonde communal farmer Ronald Mukanga said.
Although Zimbabwe Diamonds Mining Workers’ Union (ZDMWU) took up the matter and filed a labour dispute with National Employment Council (Mines Sector) on behalf of Detroop workers, Bikita became the sacrificial lamb.
This is not an isolated case affecting mine workers under the Chinese-owned companies, who are supposedly the all-weather friendly investors for Zimbabwe.
Ironically, some government officials including top retired army officers are working in mining syndicates with these Chinese, according to investigations.
As workers join their international counterparts commemorating Workers Day their dire situation is prevalent in mines in Manicaland, Matabeleland South, North, Midlands, Mashonaland East and Central where there are major gold deposits.
ZDMWU secretary-general, Justice Chinhema is not happy at all: “There is unfair labour practice at major mines where workers do not get overtime. Workers remain casuals besides working continuously for several months against the Labour Act. This must stop.”
He cited the discrimination of women who were underpaid on the basis of gender.
Chinhema claimed that bogus trade unions have been caught up in a web of corruption, demanding to be bribed while workers suffer in silence.
“We will stand for workers’ rights and not to be silenced by anyone regardless of who they are in its quest for justice and for protection of employees’ rights in the mining industry,” he said.
Chinhema warned employers in the mining industry that the “honeymoon” is over.
Mine workers across the country are allegedly being abused by Chinese employers.
“These are mafia gangs not investors, recolonising our country through looting and exploitation of our resources and people. We will demonstrate against all these by marching to Chinese embassy or when so called investors are our airports and demonstrate to express our anger,” he said.
He slammed the abusive Chinese nationals for not complying with environmental, safety, health and labour laws in the country.
“As we commemorate Workers Day on May 1, we must welcome genuine investors and resistance of thieves, looters and exploiters,” he said.
International Workers’ Day — also known as Labour Day or Workers’ Day in some countries and often referred to as May Day— is a celebration of labourers and the working classes that is promoted by the international labour movement which occurs every year on May Day (1 May), an ancient European spring festival. The day was chosen by a pan-national organisation of socialist and communist political parties to commemorate the Haymarket affair, which occurred in Chicago on May 4, 1886. The day has since been observed as a national holiday across the world.
For many works in Zimbabwe like Bikita, the day has since lost significance given the hardship faced by workers ranging from poor pay to unbearable working conditions against the backdrop of unprecedented economic hardships in the country.