The unfolding labour unrest in the country has the potential to bring Zimbabwe to a halt and to take the country back to that forgettable economic darkness of 2008 if government fails to handle the crisis well.
The government has summoned all civil servants representatives to a meeting tomorrow “in pursuit of developing common positions in relation to the improvement of employee salaries and generally resolve any matters that impact their conditions of service”, according to a statement issued by July Moyo, the acting Labour minister, on Friday.
Needless to say, the calm sounding tone of the statement belies the volatile mood in the civil service, and the fact that the meeting is really a desperate bid to avert imminent labour revolt. Teachers who are expected to go back to work on Tuesday have already declared their intention to boycott classes while discontent is simmering among the rest of the civil service.
This is why it is prudent for government to throw arrogance out the window at tomorrow’s meeting and face head-on the reality of the problem besetting the country. It is good that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has seen sense in cutting short his leave to attend to this problem. He has to be around when his Finance minister must make hard decisions on the loud rejection of the surrogate bond note by government workers.
The unrest in the civil service is clearly representative of the grim mood in the country and the source of this disgruntlement is the decay in the value of the discredited bond note. Lame claims by the government that this pseudo currency trades at par with the US dollar can no longer hold water and it is time authorities come face to face with reality and take action.
It is the uselessness of the bond note that has sparked furore across the country resulting in doctors demanding to be paid in US dollars. Other civil servants like teachers are also demanding that their RTGS salaries be immediately raised from around $500 to $3 000.
There are indeed other valid matters surrounding conditions of service for civil servants, but the key issue that will make or break tomorrow’s meeting will be the country’s currency. It is as well that Finance and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube and Labour and Social Welfare minister Sekai Nzenza will be there at the meeting to provide answers.
Given the mood within the government workforce and the country at large, it would be wise for the government to abandon its bully tactics and take the demands of the workers seriously to avoid situations that could bring chaos into the country. Threats and other forms of intimidation, such as are seen coming from some sections of the Zanu PF party, are misguided and unhelpful to the government.
Demands for living wages and a national outcry over deteriorating conditions of life in the country are not a crime and do not need political instigation. The people are not blind to the fact that their conditions of living are falling by the day and they do not need alleged regime change agents to tell them that.
Mnangagwa needs to take charge and make bold decisions including dealing with the currency crisis to take Zimbabweans out of this misery.