FROM a distance, one could mistake the gathering for a funeral where a few mourners were paying their last respects to their loved one.
Report by Musa Dube
The people looked haggard and exhausted.
This is the scenario that greeted this reporter when he arrived at the White City stadium in Bulawayo on May 1 where people were commemorating the Workers’ Day.
The paltry crowd that braced the chilly morning weather was literally in a sombre mood.
Even the sexually stimulating and gyrating dance moves from popular musician Sandra Ndebele failed to change the mood that engulfed the entire stadium.
This year’s commemorations were different as they were held at a time when workers’ morale had reached an all-time low.
Most of the workers had nothing to celebrate as working conditions and remuneration at the few companies still operating were deteriorating.
The 15 000-seater White City stadium was virtually empty as only a few people turned up.
Most of the workers in the second largest city are going for several months without getting their full salaries.
Big companies such as the Cold Storage Commission (CSC) and National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) are reportedly failing to pay their workers resulting in morale going down.
Employers fail to pay for services rendered
Workers told harrowing tales of how they were struggling to make ends meets in the wake of company closures.
An NRZ worker, who identified himself as Dube, said they were living in abject poverty despite waking up every day to work.
“My brother, we are in big trouble. Imagine we have gone for several months without receiving our full salaries. I can’t look after myself, let alone my family, as my employer is failing to pay me even though I am working hard,” said Dube.
The majority of workers, not only in Bulawayo but countrywide, earn below the poverty datum line, currently pegged at US$506.
The plight of workers in Bulawayo has been worsened by the massive de-industrialisation that led to many workers losing their jobs.
The city used to be the country’s industrial hub but owing to economic constraints prevailing, most of the companies have since shut down.
Big companies such as the National Blankets, Zeco and clothing companies such as Archer, Security Mills and Merlin have closed down or have relocated, leaving more than 25 000 workers jobless.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, who organised the Workers’ Day celebrations in Bulawayo, only had the schoolchildren and vendors who made the bulk of the paltry crowd, to thank for attending.
ZCTU Western Regional Chairperson Reason Ngwenya bemoaned the poor crowd.
“This stadium used to be full of workers celebrating this day but today it’s empty,” said Ngwenya.
Ngwenya appealed to the government to revive Bulawayo’s industry so that it could regain its former glory.
“The government and members of parliament, I beg you to revive the Bulawayo industry and create jobs for the people,” said Ngwenya.
most companies in Bulawayo remained operational on Workers’ Day,.
A survey carried out revealed that it was business as usual as some companies, shops and supermarkets were opened in the city centre.
Only government offices and banks were closed for the holiday.
Most businesspeople said they would not take a break to join in the celebrations because they wanted to remain in business.
“We are not closing down because if we are to do that, we will be out of business,” said Q-Pay Investments marketing manager Zandile Maphosa.
Another businessperson echoed the same sentiments, saying they would struggle to pay monthly bills if they were to take a break.
“If we are to close even for a day we would be out of business. We would not be able to pay rentals, utility bills and workers. The time for us to go on holiday is long gone,” she said.
Due to the economic crisis, it has become the norm that most businesses in Bulawayo and beyond no longer pay much attention to the significance of national or public holidays. In the past it was only the bars, beerhalls and other entertainment sports that remained open.