BY EVERSON MUSHAVA/OBEY MANAYITI
THE reintroduction of the Zimbabwe dollar as the sole legal tender has widened divisions within the civil service, particularly teachers, who are now accusing each other of colluding with government to make decisions that will haunt workers in the near future.
This followed revelations that some teacher unions allegedly begged President Emmerson Mnangagwa to reintroduce the local currency and ban the decade-old multi-currency system in order to level the playfield in the country and protect impoverished government workers.
Civil servants had threatened to down tools starting this week, but shelved the decision after a two-hour-long meeting between Mnangagwa and the Apex Council – an umbrella body for civil servants unions, last Friday where it emerged that government was rail-roaded to banish the multi-currency regime to avoid a crippling strike.
Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president Takavafira Zhou said the decision by the Apex Council to force the reintroduction of the Zimdollar without an enabling environment was all political to save government from the strikes, but did not address workers’ concerns. He said while PTUZ, together with the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (Zimta) and the Zimbabwe Nurses’ Association (Zina), were busy lobbying through Parliament for government to provide an allowance of US$200 to cushion the workers, the Apex Council went behind their back and met Mnangagwa and made concessions to have the Zimdollar reintroduced.
“We have been betrayed by Apex’s romance with the employer,” Zhou claimed.
“We had agreed with a number of organisations for a united action by government workers that was supposed to be put in operation with effect from this week, intensifying into next week and reaching total withdrawal of labour by the third week.”
Zhou added: “However, Apex’s romance with government last Friday had riddled the united front. But it’s mere ludicrous hallucination for Apex to hope the ban of multi-currency is a solution to our parlous salaries and conditions of service. If anything, the perceived solution is worse than the disease. Once more, Apex has been used to legitimise the illegitimate (for) political expediency.”
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He said they had agreed in principle that beginning yesterday all government workers would not go to work. “Next week, we would work only on Monday and Tuesday, the following week, we work only on Monday and if government does nothing, all government workers withdraw their labour,” he said.
“But on the same day we did not know that there was an ambush from Apex. After that meeting, Zina shelved the idea of the strike as well as other teacher unions that include Zimta, the Zimbabwe National Teachers’ Unions, Teachers Union of Zimbabwe and Democratic Teachers in Zimbabwe.
“Apex Council has shown its true colours. The political expediency is clear in that government has silenced a clamour for US$ before we have even had a response from Parliament. Government wanted to silence the restive soldiers and police, but used the teachers to find a way out. But it is nothing, but political expediency. As for Zimta, we were together, but how they managed an about turn, everyone wonders why.”
But Apex Council spokesperson David Dzatsunga said: “I don’t know which is worse than earning a currency that is not buying in the market. At least, the new measures will make sure businesses operate using the same currency.”
He added: “Yes, they (PTUZ) had gone to Parliament with Zimta. It was part of the process and it means Zimta in its better wisdom realised Apex’s move to really talk to the President was logical.
“Zimta went along the Apex decision and informed the President that a radical decision should be made, either to dollarise or de-dollarise because the situation was untenable. Yes, we know others get donor funds in US dollars; that was not banned; they will still go and change their money and buy. If the Zimdollar loses value, they will still benefit. De-dollarisation was necessary to create a level playing field.”
Zimta president Richard Gundani said it was always their strategy to strengthen social dialogue with all arms of government for the good of its constituency.
“What we are saying is we are not celebrating any form of money. What we want is to have our salaries and afford the cost of living. Whatever government is to put in place which is to achieve that, we will celebrate,” Gundani said.
“If they (government) are going to achieve it with the re-introduction of the Zimbabwe dollar and put all fundamentals in place, then fair and fine.”
He added that they now await for the 10 days promised by government to see how much they will be offered. “We wanted to give intervention a chance; we want improved salaries and stabilisation of prices. The TNF met yesterday and 10 days from Friday, government will announce salaries and some measures. Figures are not important, what is important is to balance the cost of living.”
Yesterday, MDC deputy president Tendai Biti warned that Zimbabwe faces imminent implosion following the re-introduction of the local currency.
He said he feared the country could slip back into the infamous hyperinflationary era and warned that basic commodities could begin to vanish from the shelves.
“That is madness and people must start bracing themselves for the dark days of 2008. What they are doing is to take us back to those days,” Biti said.
The former Finance minister said the fundamentals were not yet in place for the move, giving varying examples how this is going to bring down the economy. The reintroduction of the Zimdollar came at a time when the opposition political party and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) were threatening mass protests over economic hardships.
The Vendors Initiative for Socio-Economic Transformation chairman Samuel Wadzai said as vendors they were opposed to the unilateral government decision to scrap the multi-currency system.
“The decision, which has some far reaching ramifications to citizens’ hard-earned income, was supposed to be implemented after far and wide consultations with all the key stakeholders in the economy.”