By Maxwell Teedzai
Unionists across the African continent and in particular the Acting President of NMWUZ – Mine Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe Mr Kurebwa Javangwe Nomboka have hailed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent Cabinet reshuffle as the most anticipated one for especially the mine workers and employees in general, following the appointment of Enoch Godongwana, 64, as South Africa’s new Finance and Economic Development Minister.
“Appointing a former unionist to such a highly esteemed Ministry is clear sign that the Government of South Africa has taken a sharp turnaround in addressing workers’ rights and is now more concerned on crafting a new economic remedy that will not only stir SA’s troubled economy in the right direction but also ensure that the plight of mine workers and employees in general are fixed quickly so that their grievances which have for ages been downplayed can now be redressed,” commented Nomboka on the sidelines of President Cyril Ramaphosa of SA recent Cabinet reshuffle.
“Incoming Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, started his career in the trade union movement where he has spent most of his youthful energy and sacrificed the greater percentage of his service to South Africa in the labour union movement and in that limelight we regard him a pragmatic economic voice and a trusted camaraderie of Unionists and we strongly believe is going to improve the working conditions of not only South African employees but those of the entire SADC region, and for that we salute him and welcome him with friendly arms,” further asserted the NMWUZ Acting President.
“While we commemorate Heroes and Defence Forces Days in Zimbabwé, our workers and especially those in the mining sector continue to wallop in deep poverty as the Second Republic is taking too long to address the long standing labour grievances in the country’s vital extractives sector, and our hope is that His Excellence President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa will look into this matter with urgency since its renewal has long been overdue, and we also want the President to appoint people with union experience to critical socio-economic change drivers such as the Finance seat as this will bring in much reformation in the labour sector unlike Mr Mthuli Ncube who is bent on reversing the hard won financial gains of ordinary workers which they fought for in the First Republic,” retorted Nomboka.
Government response aimed at curtailing the superspreading of the deadly novel COVID-19 pandemic continues to negatively affect mining operations and their respective communities.
“COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in gold and sales to Fidelity Printers and Refiners (FPR), the sole legal buyer of gold in Zimbabwe, to decline sharply and more workers and mining communities are at risk of suffocating from this negative tirade,” Nomboka said.
Lockdown measures and movement restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the virus have resulted in reduced workforces at mining sites, leaving many unable to earn an income and leading to a reduction in production. A recent research has indicated that these impacts are also disproportionately affecting women.
NMWUZ Acting President also urged Government to ensure head immunity in vaccination programs aimed at clamping down the superspreading of the deadly corona virus among miners and their respective communities who have little to zero access to COVID-19 vaccines.
“We are calling on Government to ensure that the tax-free threshold be reverted back to the 2017 figure of US$300 while mine workers’ wages should be paid up in United States Dollars as the PDL – poverty datum line is currently pegged at US$600 per head,” he further articulated.
The short and long-term effects of this era are going to haunt our economies of scale for more than a decade or so and there is need for Governments to urgently sweep into the mining sector with new policy adaptations aimed at mitigating the 21st century challenges, such as climate change and the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The Trade Union movement in Zimbabwe dates back to the period of colonialism (1890) and the establishment of capitalist relations of productions. The central role played by capitalism in the colonialisation of the country, and the creation of a capitalist mode of production in Zimbabwe did underlie the privilege role capitalism was able to carve out for itself in the country. The British South Africa (BSA) Company, under the Cecil John Rhodes, came to Zimbabwe in search of a second gold rand, following the extensive discovery and exploitation of the mineral in South Africa. The country only became a British colony in 1923, after 33years of company rule.
During the initial phase of colonization, the focus of economic policy was on the mining sector. The settlers had been inspired to move to the north of the Limpopo River in the hope of finding a second Gold Rand. When it became clear the expected huge gold deposits were not there, the value of BSA. Company’s shares on the London Stock Exchange collapsed. As away of minimizing the loss, the BSA Company shifted its attention from mining towards agriculture.
Godongwana started his career in the trade union movement, first as a shop steward in the Metal and Allied Workers’ Union in 1979 and later as an organiser for the National Union of Metalworkers South Africa (NUMSA). By 1994, he was general secretary of the union and served on the executive of COSATU.
Long serving Finance Minister Tito Mboweni was replaced by Enoch Godongwana, the head of the economic transformation subcommittee at the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party and chairman of the Development Bank of Southern Africa.
He is an influential figure in the ANC and government’s economic policy and has previously served in government as deputy minister of public enterprises and deputy minister of economic development.
The appointment of Godongwana, follows months of speculation about Mboweni’s position in the government after he said he would favor a return to the private sector.
Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has carried out a significant cabinet reshuffle covering not only security posts but also the economy and health following days of unrest last month that left more than 350 dead.
The mining industry is among sectors expected to help the recovery of the economy. Last year, export earnings from the industry contributed 73 percent of the country’s total exports.
The collective bargaining for the industry is held quarterly and mine employees have been traditionally represented by the Union.
Consequently, wage negotiations between Zimbabwe’s mining companies and unions have not yet reached the demand of mine workers, a move which is seemingly brewing a potential job action by unions.
Meanwhile, the Acting President of NMWUZ has called upon mine workers to join their Union which he said had a vision to represent one hundred percent of all mine workers by 2030.
“United we stand – mari kuvashandi – simba kumushandi – abasha chikonyoka”.
“If the Zimbabwe Government is not heeding our call to revert back to US$300 tax-free threshold and $US$600 PDL salary scale, we will be left with no option except to let the train crash and burn while industrial action and protests will become the new normal in the extractives’ sector”.
NMWUZ is a ZCTU affiliate.