BY PETER MUTASA
YOUR Excellency, President ED Mnangagwa.
Mr President, l address you on behalf of workers of Zimbabwe who are suffering and disillusioned.
I also address you in my own capacity as a citizen desiring a better life for my family.
We engage you openly because in many ways your government has closed all avenues of proper and effective participation of labour and other civic society movements in governance.
Your government has also designated the labour movement, especially the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), a terrorist organisation, thereby closing most avenues for genuine dialogue.
We also address you openly because this is a matter of public interest. Many would like to tell you what we are telling you but are gripped with fear. When you came back from exile and took over leadership of this great country in November 2017, you promised that you would be approachable, a listening President, as soft as wool, and tolerant to divergent views.
You promised us democracy, freedom, prosperity, respect of our dignity and fairness. You said you were ushering us into a new dispensation different from the late former President Robert Mugabe’s dispensation which you were also ironically part of.
Your new dispensation was supposed to be based on constitutionalism, rule of law, national cohesion, democracy, and zero tolerance to corruption just to mention just a few of the many things you promised to do differently.
It is important to point out that the workers and many citizens participated in the processes that led to your inauguration as the second Executive President of Zimbabwe in November 2017.
Yes, l was there at Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield, Harare, on November 18 2017 and spoke in support of a new Zimbabwe on behalf of the working class. Don’t be mistaken, Mr President, the majority of us were not oblivious of your political past. We were prepared to forgive and join you in rebuilding a new nation that is good to all.
We also were not doing it for you or your colleagues in government. No, not at all, we had hope for a new future. A future of peace, freedom, democracy, rule of law, equality before the law, equity, justice, constitutionalism, prosperity and transitional justice.
Unfortunately, despite this hope and goodwill extended to you by citizens and the international community, your government has done everything to destroy our hope. We have experienced scary authoritarianism never imagined post-Mugabe regime.
This includes shooting of defenceless citizens in the streets, the unlawful arrests and pre-trial detentions of citizens, abductions, torture, intimidation and many other forms of abuses. There has also been a spike in corruption cases in many sectors of our economy that has no parallels since independence in terms of scale and impunity.
In short Mr President, workers feel betrayed and the majority are not happy, never mind what those close to you say. Many workers are now living in conditions that are either parallel to or worse than the colonial conditions.
Domestic workers are earning $900 per month according to what your government gazetted. This is only equivalent to US$9 or nine loaves of bread. Many workers earn a minimum salary of $2 549 again as gazetted by your government. This is only US$25 or 25 loaves of bread for the whole month.
You fought for freedom and justice during the colonial rule and we are forever grateful.
Mr President, tell us if this is fair and if this is what you and many freedom fighters fought for. Why is it that working conditions under your leadership are now said to be comparable to those under colonial or apartheid rule?
Are you happy about how all professionals, including medical doctors, nurses, teachers, agronomists, engineers etc have been reduced to paupers?
We have lost all freedoms as workers. We cannot strike anymore. The right to peacefully demonstrate and petition those in power is now a mirage. Just like in colonial Rhodesia, workers are unlawfully arrested and detained for exercising these rights that many died for.
Our question is why has your government allowed this betrayal of the liberation struggle ethos and values?
Mr President, many have explained the situation in our country in many ways and you probably get intelligence reports about this too.
Here is my view which is also shared by many workers. It is not working. Zimbabwe is now a failed State. The State failure is shown in a number of ways
A State failing to provide and guarantee security of persons
Many people including trade union activists now live in fear. What the late national hero Edson M Zvobgo didn’t expect is unfortunately happening. He said this about the State the revolutionaries intended to build: “We do not want to create a socio-legal order in the country in which people are petrified, in which people go to bed having barricaded their doors and their windows because someone belonging to the special branch of the police will break into their houses…. This is what we have been fighting against…This is why we are in this revolution for as long as it is necessary, to abolish this system”.
The abductions, torture, and surveillance of civic society, journalists and opposition activists is scary and deplorable. We never expected this to happen in an independent State. Many of us believe that this is being done by State agents. I was also almost abducted not once and have had many threats targeted at my family and my person.
My 19-year-old nephew was abducted and tortured in January 2019. I verily believe that this is the work of the State, for the threats and aggression are always meant to stop us from raising legitimate demands to the State.
A country where citizens live in fear of abductions, torture, sexual harassment, unlawful detentions and other human rights abuses is clearly a failed State, especially where the threats and abuses are from the State. In its seventh global rights index report, ITUC classified Zimbabwe amongst the 10 worst countries for working people. This is a sad indictment for a nation born out of working class and peasants struggles for justice and fairness.
Economic and social implosion
The economy is on a tailspin despite what you may be advised. We are grappling under a depression. Yes, partly because of COVID-19 but mainly because of the mismanagement of the economy since 2017. We are in a vicious cycle with low wages, low domestic demand, low savings and investment and low productivity.
These factors are reinforcing themselves, hence our increasing levels of unemployment and deepening poverty.
Mr President Sir, don’t listen to praise singers in business who lie that all is well. Many businesses are suffocating due to a hostile environment.
Prior to COVID-19, half of the population was food insecure. Over 70% were in poverty and about 38% in abject poverty.
I have already explained how workers’ wages have been severely devalued from an average of around US$300 before your ascendency to the present US$25. Our professionals and the former middle class have lost all dignity.
Many workers are renting two rooms and suffer the indignity of sharing bedrooms with grown-up children.
Many working class families are now affording only a single meal a day. Many kids from the working class will drop out of school because their working parents are literally working for nothing and are in bondage.
How does your government expect workers to live while earning useless RTGS salaries against prices of goods and services pegged in US$? Many who lived and worked under colonial rule and soon after independence tell us that what we are witnessing today resembles colonial master and servant working conditions.
Are you and your government not concerned about this state of affairs 40 years after independence?
A State failing to provide public services to its citizens
Mr President, all over the country there is evidence of failure. Our hospitals lack drugs and equipment.
We have lost skills and those still working in our health services are underpaid, without PPEs and extremely demotivated.
We are probably the only country in the world that had closed public hospitals during a global pandemic as health services workers were on strike during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. We thank God who protected us despite our exposure.
Our education used to be the envy of many. Now some of our schools resemble backward pigsties. School kids have no books and teachers are starving, earning close to nothing.
Look at our public transport system. You may have no time to check, l challenge you to move around the bus stations during peak hours. Workers are facing serious challenges, spending two to three hours at bus stops.
Many are using open trucks and some are walking to and from work. No one imagined such regression post-2017.
I can’t talk about roads, water and sanitation, for the decay is self-evident Mr President.
We have had two lockdowns and in both cases, the State failed to provide meaningful social assistance to starving citizens. Clearly this indicates a State failing to provide for its citizens.
Mr President, the signs of failure are everywhere and clearly evident for all to see unless we have lowered our standards to pathetic levels. However, these three suffice to express my point.
Corruption, cartels and capture of the State by the elites and their cronies
Mr President, you acknowledged that corruption was the country’s enemy number one. You stated in many instances that fighting corruption was a priority for your government.
However, citizens including workers do not believe that the State is sincerely fighting corruption. The few cases of corruption reported seem to be more of factional fights within the political arena.
There have been a number of exposés about the negative operations and effects of cartels. There have also been a number of corruption scandals reported by local media. Unfortunately in some cases the journalists who reported corruption have in the eyes of the public been victimised.
Even the youths in your party Lewis Matutu and Godfrey Tsenengamu decried the destructive operations of cartels.
It is now common knowledge that cartels’ manipulation of forex, petroleum and other markets have led to market failures.
In most cases these have resulted in massive transfer of wealth from the poor working class to the few rich and politically-connected elites.
The recent Daily Maverick expose’ raised serious allegations about cartel operations and their negative impact on the State and economy.
Patronage and rent seeking have led to serious economic losses for the country through illicit financial outflows and many other negative economic activities.
These include regulatory capture in pursuit of regulatory rents through market subversion and government-assisted tax evasion. The whole society is held at random by the few and plunged into misery.
Militarisation of the State and pursuit of a one-party State
The country is supposed to be a constitutional democracy based on the doctrine of separation of powers.
Unfortunately in my view the now open militarisation of the State has led to usurpation of power of the other organs of the State. Our Parliament has become powerless and merely a place of social gathering for our representatives. It has no power to hold the Executive to account as witnessed in many instances.
For example, the Executive has been contracting debts without parliamentary approval. Some ministers and other politically-connected persons have either ignored parliamentary subpoenas or held the parliamentary portfolio committees in contempt.
They do so with impunity because they are connected and protected.
There is a growing and in many cases justified view that the Judiciary is now also captured and getting orders on certain matters from somewhere.
There are clear cases that cement this view. It is said justice must not only be done but it must also be seen to be done. Many no longer trust constitutional institutions including the National Prosecuting Authority and the police, questioning the independence of these State organs.
There is selective application of the law and the law is being used to persecute dissenting voices.
We seem to have become a police or military State. All our rights have been suspended and it appears there is an undeclared martial law at play. We no longer have freedom of assembly, we can’t peacefully demonstrate or petition the Executive.
Closer to us, when nurses and doctors went on strike you appointed the Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, a retired army-general as Health and Child Care minister. This was not an issue for us because he is now part of the Executive.
However, it was reported that in one of your speeches you pointed out that you deliberately appointed a soldier to deal with the striking health workers. Mr President, militarisation of the labour market is the worst oppressive moves we least expected from the government.
The effect of this unfortunate development is that all constitutional rights and democratic processes are suspended. This has led to a failed State where the Constitution is just but heaps of paper.
The attack on organised labour, civic society and the opposition MDC Alliance that gave your party formidable challenge in the previous elections shows systemic and systematic silencing of dissent. This points to a desire for and shift towards a one-party State which in our context will have disastrous results.
Bad and fascist policies
Since your ascendancy, workers have been on the receiving end in terms of social and economic policies.
Despite evidence that neoliberalism is failing everywhere, Finance and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube has religiously pursued this dying ideology. Austerity dismally failed to lead to economic recovery in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
Even the apostles of neoliberalism, International Monetary Fund and World Bank, acknowledged that they were wrong in prescribing this.
Your government ambitiously adopted an austerity programme that includes both wage moderation and increases in both direct and indirect taxes. The result has been erosion of buying power, deepening poverty, reduced domestic demand, reduced capacity utilisation and concomitant job losses. Your government continues to pronounce and implement anti-workers and anti-poor social and economic policies.
The country has become a huge jungle where survival of the fittest is the order of the day. Many workers and poor citizens now bore the social and economic scars of your government’s anti-worker policies. Many are suffering mental illnesses and marriages are breaking up. These policies and programmes have seriously impaired your legitimacy as a government.
Government legitimacy is also based on its ability to provide for citizens’ needs, that’s being a government for the people. It is in this area that the State has dismally failed.
What must be done?
We need to urgently redirect the country back to constitutional democracy as provided for in our Constitution. Let us embark on transformative constitutionalism. We need to see the constitutional order prescribed by our Constitution being put in practice.
It is the Constitution that demarcates and grants powers of organs of the State. If religiously followed, we can find our way back to a normal and functioning State. It is the same Constitution that prescribes that government should consult citizens on development and economic policies.
If effective participation of citizens and workers through social dialogue becomes government policy, we can build ownership of policies, national cohesion and develop our country.
We need an urgent reversal of all anti-workers and anti-poor policies like SI33 and SI 142 of 2019.
The effects of these policies must be quickly curtailed and losses reversed especially on pensions and savings of the poor. We must revert to egalitarian values and destroy this capitalist ideology guiding your government.
Again your government is doing it all wrong by targeting those speaking against State failure. Citizens are being targeted for speaking against and for constitutionalism, rule of law, democracy, poverty, corruption, cartels, State capture, inequality and erosion of wages, pensions and savings.
Of these, which one is your government arresting citizens for and why? Are these demands different from what you promised us and what you promised to fight against?
Mr President, please restore our hope, freedom and dignity as a people in a State that is supposed to be free and independent.
We know the State is powerful but that power must not be used to oppress citizens. It must be used to protect all and develop the nation for all.
History shows that a people can tolerate abuse and subjugation by authorities to an extent. Thereafter, civil disobedience kicks in. Workers want to focus on production and caring for their families, not civil disobedience.
My objective and hope in writing this open letter is to share views and the agony of the working class. I seek to elicit progressive change in how your government governs us.
Yours in agony, despair and misery that is shared by the majority but caused by a few.