Hewers of wood, drawers of water

Guest column: Paidamoyo Muzulu

THAT Zimbabwe is facing the twin devils of political and economic crises is self-evident, however, more worrying is the government’s indifferent attitude to these problems and its silent approval, hence cursing the working class to perpetual hewers of wood and drawers of water for the rich.

A silent revolution is taking place as President Emmerson Mnangagwa keeps satisfying the needs of capital by cutting back on social spending – education and health — as he tries to wring some foreign direct investment and Bretton Woods institutions’ support.

The cutting back on education and health funding have inadvertently created room for unregulated private players to enter the sectors. This also feeds into the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank and International Monetary Fund)’s calls for privatisation of services. However, with unemployment rate in Zimbabwe above 90% and nearly 70% living below the datum poverty line, now at $3 600 for a family of five, it is a wonder how the generality of the population will afford private services.

Many schools, including missionary institutions, have privatised their services and are asking market-related fees. The government despite its public posturing to the contrary, it actually remains aloof and the schools are allowed to behave in an anti-poor manner.

One is forced to ask why Zimbabweans are being cursed by political leaders like the Gibeonites in Joshua 9;23: “Now, therefore, you are cursed, and none of you shall be freed from being slaves — wood cutters and water carriers for the house of my God.”

It is tempting to substitute God for capital in this instance. Many are aware of education as a liberating tool, an acquisition that can make one move up the social ladder and take their families and progeny out of poverty for good. It is this same opportunity that many in the current government got access to, but are ready to deny others because they feel they have arrived.

Analysed with the benefit of hindsight, some in the present regime have worked hard since the August 2015 Supreme Court Zuva Petroleum judgment, to make sure workers have been reduced to something akin to casual labour. Employers can now simply fire workers on three months’ notice and negotiate an exit package which in the main is paltry and pro-capital.

Whether deliberate or not, Zimbabwe is creating one large pool of cheap labour — a playground for capital that can abuse workers without fear of any actions against it. The anti-public education policy being pursued by the regime is meant to perpetuate the current social classes as they are after two hyperinflationary episodes in a decade.

Without education and savings, one will not have the luxury of choosing a job, but to take what is on offer even if they are aware they are working like slaves. It may be missed by the current regime, but the reality is that it is condemning a whole generation to a lifetime of hewing wood and drawing water for the capitalists without a chance they can get out of the vicious cycle of poverty.

Two years before the current regime took over power via a coup, the old Robert Mugabe regime had started a government scholarship for those pupils/students who excelled in science and mathematics – creating a potential pool of Zimbabweans who could not only compete in the world, but also help drive the country’s economy in the fourth industrial revolution. The fourth industrial revolution is generally defined as the current and developing environment in which disruptive technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the way we live and work.

It is obvious that most Zimbabweans after failing to get a basic or tertiary education even if they are academically gifted, would be reduced to menial labourers paid what employers deem fair remuneration as the country does not have a statutory minimum wage.

Without sounding mundane, Zimbabweans have to frankly discuss the Zimbabwe they envision. They have to candidly speak about the issues that are non-negotiable such as the right to education, health, water, housing and an efficient public transport system. They have to voice what they believe should be the minimum salary for any employee.

It makes the aspect of working meaningless if workers cannot educate their children, pay for medication when they fall sick or even afford basic meals.

The privatisation tide, particularly for education should be stopped now, we can’t sleep soundly while being aware that the government has perpetually rendered a whole generation and its progeny “hewers of wood and drawers of water” for capital.

Ways to fund public education should be found now, failing to stem the tide now would mean floodgates for other privatisations are open.

Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist and writes here in his personal capacity. He can be contacted on muzulu.p@gmail.com

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