An analysis of trade unions in Zimbabwe by the United States embassy


The United States embassy in Harare which has always had a keen interest in the labour movement in Zimbabwe carried out a two-part analysis of the labour movement barely two months after the formation of the inclusive government.

The Insider has so far only been able to get part 1 of the analysis which was released by Wikileaks.

United States interest in movement began long before independence with the Central Intelligence Agency infiltrating the labour movement then and even after independence.


Full cable:



If you are new to these pages, please read an introduction on the structure of a cable as well as how to discuss them with others. See also the FAQs

Reference ID






2009-04-02 13:36

2011-08-30 01:44


Embassy Harare



DE RUEHSB #0275/01 0921336


O 021336Z APR 09





























E.O. 12958: N/A



OF 2)










1. (U) This is the first of two cables assessing labor in

Zimbabwe. Part one examines the history of the labor

movement and the challengs facing unions. Part two examines

the internal political struggles within the labor movement

and its continued relationship with the MDC leadership.


2. (SBU) Our overall assessment is that the labor movement

in Zimbabwe is struggling to survive. Low formal employment

and worthless Zimbabwe dollar-denominated salaries have

almost completely eroded revenue from membership dues,

thereby undermining unions’ ability to represent worker

needs. We found this to be true across all organized labor

sectors. The labor movement is also threatened by a second

front opened by ZANU-PF. So-called “splinter unions,”

created by ZANU-PF to undermine traditional representative

unions, continue to have a significant impact in rural areas

as they collect forced donations, promote farm invasions, and

are represented in negotiations with government. The MDC has

been supportive of labor, but has been criticized for not

executing on promises to pay workers a living,

foreign-currency-based wage. While recognizing government’s

constraints, labor is looking to the MDC to deliver on

salaries, as well as on other labor issues. END SUMMARY.



Background: ZCTU vs. ZFTU vs. Independents



3. (SBU) In an effort to understand the current status of

the labor movement, between March 17 and 26 we spoke with

leaders of six different labor unions as well as the umbrella

labor organization, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions

(ZCTU). All but one of these unions are formally affiliated

with the ZCTU. Meetings were held with: Gertrude Hambira,

Secretary General of the General Agriculture and Plantation

Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ); Raymond Majongwe,

Secretary General of the Progressive Teachers Union of

Zimbabwe (PTUZ); Matthew Takaona, President of the Zimbabwe

Union of Journalists (ZUJ); Wellington Likukuma, General

Secretary of the Zimbabwe Banks and Allied Workers Union

(ZIBAWU); Sophiso Ndlovu, Chief Executive Officer and Dr.

Tshabalala of the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (ZIMTA); and

Tonderai Kanengoni, Deputy Secretary General of the Transport

and General Workers Union (TGWU). We also spoke with

Wellington Chibebe, Secretary General of ZCTU and Lucia

Matibenga, ZCTU’s First Vice President and Secretary General

of the Commercial Workers Union of Zimbabwe.


4. (SBU) For decades, labor politics were subject to the

whims and abuses of single-party rule. According to

respected labor economist Godfrey Kanyenze, throughout the

colonial and Rhodesian periods, unions were severely

restricted and union leaders were routinely harassed.

Colonial and Rhodesian laws dictated that union funds could

QColonial and Rhodesian laws dictated that union funds could

not be used for political purposes, trade unionists could not

affiliate with any political party, and donations from

outside organizations had to be approved by the Minister of

Labor. During the 1960s and 1970s, trade unionism and

political activism were nearly indistinguishable, leading to

many arrests of union leaders. This historical background is

relevant because the Zimbabwean government (GOZ), beginning


HARARE 00000275 002 OF 007



in the mid-1990s, adopted similar tactics for dealing with

labor unions.


5. (SBU) In Zimbabwe there are two large organizations that

claim to represent trade unions, the Zimbabwe Congress of

Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade

Unions (ZFTU). ZCTU is the more respected and legitimate of

the two organizations by virtue of its large membership and

international recognition, via its affiliations with the

International Labor Organization and other international

labor movements, including the AFL-CIO. ZCTU was created

after Zimbabwean independence in 1981. ZCTU was formed

through the consolidation of at least six different trade

unions, and was led by ZANU-PF stalwarts for its first five

years; during its first year it was led by Robert Mugabe’s

late brother Albert. In 1985, following a series of

corruption allegations involving ZCTU leaders, an independent

leadership drawn from larger and more professional unions was

elected. When ZCTU resisted the merger of ZANU-PF and

PF-ZAPU in 1987, the rift between it and government grew

wider. Finally, as governance deteriorated in the 1990s,

ZCTU evolved into a standard-bearer for alternative

governance. Morgan Tsvangirai, who served as ZCTU’s

Secretary General between 1989 and 2000, was at the forefront

of this profound redirection. When ZCTU and 40 other civil

society groups spearheaded the creation of the Movement for

Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999, much of the MDC’s top

leadership came from ZCTU. Now Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister,

Tsvangirai maintains close — although periodically strained

— ties with ZCTU.


6. (SBU) Given ZCTU’s growing role as an effective opposition

force, ZANU-PF sought in 1997 to dilute ZCTU’s strength by

creating an alternative union movement, the ZFTU. This

coincided with ZCTU’s leadership of the first nationwide

strikes in Zimbabwe since the 1940s. ZFTU remained fairly

quiet until 2001 when it became active in helping war

veterans execute farm invasions. One of ZFTU’s primary

leaders in various capacities was feared war veteran Joseph

Chinotimba, who led the farm invasions in 2000. The ZFTU

president is currently Alfred Makwarimba, a ZANU-PF loyalist

who served as ZCTU’s president in the early 1980s. ZFTU’s

current secretary general is now Kennias Shamuyarira.


7. (SBU) ZFTU is widely recognized as illegitimate, as it

has no real membership. In order for a union to gain legal

recognition, it must be approved by the Ministry of Labor

which bases its decision on a verifiable membership base,

which the majority of ZFTU affiliates cannot muster. ZFTU

has a long history of coercing workers to join its movement.

In 2002, Chinotimba admitted that ZFTU was forcing workers to

join ZFTU. He further told the independent press, “if

(workers) want to remain with the ZCTU then they should go to

other countries and not stay in Zimbabwe.” Despite its lack

Qother countries and not stay in Zimbabwe.” Despite its lack

of legitimate membership, ZFTU is frequently quoted in the

government-sponsored press supporting ZANU-PF policies. For

instance, in May 2008, the state-owned newspaper, the Herald,

ran an article in which Shamuyarira accused ZCTU ally, the

South African Congress of Trade Unions (COSATU), of “being

used by British imperialists… to demonize Zimbabwe.” On

Workers’ Day (May 1), police often grant ZFTU permission to

hold rallies at the best and largest venues, relegating

ZCTU’s more popular rallies to less prominent locations.


8. (SBU) Perhaps the only successful independent union has

been the Zimbabwe National Teachers’ Association (ZIMTA).

However, ZIMTA Chief Executive Officer Sophiso Ndlovu told us

on March 24 that they applied to join ZCTU in November 2008.

Despite the benefits of remaining independent, such as


HARARE 00000275 003 OF 007



resisting charges of being aligned with either the MDC or

ZANU-PF, they seek to benefit from the international

assistance ZCTU receives and benefit from ZCTU’s negotiating



——————————————— —————–

Dollarization Has Hurt Unions and Political Optimism is Fading

——————————————— —————–


9. (SBU) Without exception, union leaders lamented the

continued economic hardships and their impact on union

survival. Unions rely primarily on member dues for their

income, drawing approximately one percent of gross salary

directly from member paychecks. When the Zimbabwean dollar

was still widely used, hyperinflation ate into profits,

forcing unions to cut back on services and seek outside

funding. Dollarization, while eliminating hyperinflation,

has actually cut further into member dues. While many

private companies have started paying employees in U.S.

dollars, this is not always via salary payments. Dollar

allowances, such as those paid to all civil servants, and

other benefits, such as food packs that supplement salaries,

cannot be drawn upon for union dues. Teachers’ unions are

acutely suffering, since civil servant salaries continue to

be paid in the defunct Zimbabwe dollar. ZIMTA and PTUZ both

rely heavily on outside funding from international donors and

labor movements.


10. (SBU) Initial teacher optimism over the MDC’s entrance

into government began fading as the new GOZ mae it clear

that they would not be able to pay teacher salaries in forex

for the foreseeable future, and teachers would have to rely

solely on the US$100 monthly allowances granted to all civil

servants. Consequently, ZIMTA leaders told us on March 23

that both the organization and their constituents are

struggling to make ends meet. ZIMTA is relying on grants

from international education labor groups such as the

American Federation of Teachers, which made a US$10,000

donation to ZIMTA last year. ZIMTA was now feeling pressure

from its members because, at the behest of MDC officials and

on the basis that they would be paid in hard currency, it had

called for all teachers to return to work in February. ZIMTA

official Sophiso Ndlovu said that this pressure was building

and if teachers were not paid a livable wage by April, ZIMTA

would call for a strike at their union conference at the end

of that month, repeating similar statements by PTUZ’s

Majongwe in our March 18 meeting (Ref A).



No Workers, No Members, No Dues



11. (SBU) As the economy and formal employment have

plummeted, union membership has shrunk dramatically. The

TGWU, for instance, is composed of bus drivers, large truck

drivers, transport boat captains, and taxi drivers. TGWU

Deputy Secretary General Kanengoni estimates membership now

totals 10,000, down from over 30,000 in 2005. ZIBAWU

Qtotals 10,000, down from over 30,000 in 2005. ZIBAWU

Secretary General Likukuma told us that his union has not

engaged in any recruiting activity for 18 months due to a

lack of union revenue; its membership totals just 4,700, down

from 10,000 members. Likukuma dejectedly told us that ZIBAWU

survived hyperinflation, but now suffers from the lack of

salary-based dues as workers are paid in-kind or with

allowances. ZIMTA membership has dropped by 20 percent in

just four years.


——————————————— ————

Wages: “You pretend to pay us and we’ll pretend to work.”


HARARE 00000275 004 OF 007



——————————————— ————


12. (SBU) ZCTU Secretary General Chibebe explained that ZCTU

will insist on members being paid a livable wage in foreign

currency; these demands have been criticized as unrealistic

(Ref B). Recently, ZCTU called for a minimum wage of US$454,

equivalent to the estimated poverty datum line for February.

Chibebe conceded that the figure will be reviewed downward in

light of falling prices, and estimated the general minimum

wage may settle between US$250 and US$350. He offered that

ZCTU is willing to give government and industry until June

2009 to pay the minimum wage. However, no union is prepared

to accept solely the government’s US$100 allowance.


13. (SBU) According to Kanyenze, current wages — generally

just allowances — do not motivate workers. Across the

economy, people go to work, but aren’t necessarily

productive. Symptomatic of this is that for years, ZCTU

efforts to call effective strikes have failed, largely

because employees go to work to make personal use of work

infrastructure, such as the phone or internet, or because

free transport into town is provided. Also, in the

agricultural sector, low wages have contributed to a labor

shortage, as potential workers decide to take their chances

panning for gold or border jumping for greater economic



14. (SBU) When we shared the opinion of an IMF assessment

team that Zimbabwean workers needed to adjust their

expectations due to current economic realities, Chibebe

emphatically rejected the notion that Zimbabwe is a poor

country. He said that the first point of entry to stabilizing

the economy should not be low salaries and “slave labor.” He

also said that it is not the workers’ fault that reckless

political leadership and spending has dried the coffers and

he called on government to lead by example. “Anyone

criticizing wage demands is being very cruel to the

Zimbabwean worker.”



Piecing Together the Mosaic of Labor Laws



15. (SBU) In addition to these economic challenges, a

confusing web of inconsistent laws has restricted workers’

rights. Kanyenze explained that labor laws have been amended

so many times that they contradict other laws and

international labor standards. He described a

“balkanization” of the labor market and labor laws. For

instance, to avoid paying steep income taxes on foreign

currency saaries, NGOs and others have resorted to quietly

providing employees with food baskets and other side

benefits, leading to inconsistent pay scales and conditions

of employment for similar types of work.


16. (SBU) A notable problem with labor laws is that civil

servants are not covered by protections granted in the Labor

Act. Their activities are governed by the Public Service

Act, which does not recognize the collective bargaining

QAct, which does not recognize the collective bargaining

rights of public employees. Private sector employees, by

contrast, benefit from National Employment Councils and

sector-specific tripartite negotiating committees that set

down wages and benefits through a discussion amongst labor,

business, and government representatives. Kanyenze said that

the International Labor Organization has called on Zimbabwe

to harmonize its laws to ensure all workers are afforded the

right to organize and associate with a union. The unity

government, however, may have inadvertently detracted from

that effort, according to Kanyenze. By creating new


HARARE 00000275 005 OF 007



ministries to satisfy both political parties, there are now

two ministries that share responsibility for workers. The

Labor Ministry is responsible for private sector workers

while the Ministry of Public Service is responsible for civil

servants. Both are led by MDC officials. Regarding labor

legislation, parastatal employees are technically supposed to

be governed under the Labor Act, but employers often use the

Public Service Act in negotiations. These legal

inconsistencies almost always benefit the employer rather

than the employee. Kanyenze said there is a desperate need

for a national policy framework.


17. (SBU) Additionally, legislation such as the Public Order

and Security Act (POSA), the Access to Information and

Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), and the Criminal Act are

often invoked to curtail union freedoms. Despite a special

labor court to handle labor matters, the system is seriously

backlogged and delays of several years are commonplace.



Many, Many Ministries Angling for Action



18. (SBU) Kanyenze went on to list ministries attempting to

play a role in labor and economic recovery — or to take

credit in case of recovery — including the Ministries of

Youth, Small and Medium Enterprises, Labor, Public Service,

and Education. He said that Youth Minister Saviour

Kasukuwere of ZANU-PF had contacted him to request a copy of

Kanyenze’s assessment on how to rebuild labor markets in

Zimbabwe, even though that report would be more appropriately

handled by the Labor or Finance ministry. As ministers elbow

each other for a role in the government, Kanyenze fears a

lack of coherent vision will impede real progress.


19. (SBU) The new Labor Minister, Paurina Gwanyanya, has

been widely described as a competent and impressive leader.

She comes from the labor movement, previously led the

parliamentary labor committee and served on the SADC

parliamentary forum. Kanyenze and others believe she will

surround herself with sound advisors and make evidence-based

decisions. Her Permanent Secretary, however, is mistrusted

by those in the labor movement. According to Kanyenze, the

Labor Ministry is “infested” with intelligence operatives who

have long spied on the ZCTU and will need to be weeded out

over time. Chibebe told us on March 25 that while Gwanyanya

is astute on labor issues, he questions whether she will be

able to separate herself from her background in union

politics. He said it was “unfortunate” that she had been

given that post, and repeated Kanyenze’s concerns that the

ministry is rife with ZANU-PF supporters.



ZFTU Playing Lead Role in Farm Invasions



20. (SBU) Although lacking legitimate membership, ZFTU has

managed to have a negative impact on labor in some sectors.

Qmanaged to have a negative impact on labor in some sectors.

In most industries, workers can readily distinguish between

the ZFTU and ZCTU affiliate. However, in agriculture, ZFTU

has taken advantage of workers’ lack of access to information

and coerced them into ZFTU membership. A ZCTU affiliate, the

General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe

(GAPWUZ) has long represented agricultural workers on

commercial farms. However harassment, political violence and

forced displacement have eroded GAPWUZ’s membership to 27,000

members, down from 50,000 just a year ago. This has partly

been accomplished by three ZFTU affiliates, including the

deceptively named group Horticulture and General Agriculture


HARARE 00000275 006 OF 007



and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (HGAPWUZ), whose

representatives routinely arrive on commercial farms claiming

to represent the needs of farm workers. (NOTE: ZFTU

affiliate HGAPWUZ uses its nearly identical name to easily

deceive farm workers into believing its “representatives” are

from the legitimate GAPWUZ union. ZFTU affiliates in other

sectors have adopted similar names to their legitimate ZCTU

counterparts in an effort to confuse workers. END NOTE.)


21. (SBU) GAPWUZ’s General Secretary, Gertrude Hambira, told

us on March 17 that her organization was suffering as a

result of violence that disrupted commercial farm operations

during last year’s contested elections as well as the recent

upsurge in farm invasions that began in early February (Ref

C). She explained that when farms are invaded by new owners

bearing offer letters ordering the existing owner to vacate

the property, typically the new owners will dismiss the vast

majority of workers as well. She cited a recent example in

the Chegutu area of Mashonaland West where 400 workers were

just evicted from a citrus farm by its new owner, Edna

Mazongwe, President of the Senate.


22. (SBU) Additionally, under the Labor Act, the employer

must pay a severance packag to all workers. Some evicted

white farmers have honored these agreements and paid these

packages despite losing their farms. In some of these

instances, HGAPWUZ representatives then extort half of that

severance package from the displaced workers, calling it a

“consultation fee.” When GAPWUZ brought these occurrences to

the attention of police in nearby Kadoma, they responded that

they couldn’t take up the allegations because it was



23. (SBU) GAPWUZ is also in decline because the new farmers

— those few who actually engage in some farming activity —

actively discourage union membership. These farmers refuse

to subtract and send union membership fees from their

employees’ paychecks. In fact, ZFTU and HGAPWUZ have been

notorious for harassing employees of private businesses (not

just farm workers) and demanding physical collections of

membership dues. Many workers feel compelled to join to

avoid reprisals associated with being labeled as part of the



24. (SBU) Hambira went on to explain how the land reform

program altered the negotiating landscape. Formerly, GAPWUZ

would negotiate wages with the Commercial Farmer’s Union

(CFU). Now the CFU has largely been replaced by the Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmer’s Union (ZCFU) that represents the

interests of the new farmers who were awarded or seized

formerly white-owned farms. Hambira said that shift has also

hurt farm workers, as wages and working conditions have

worsened under ZCFU management. She also reported that the

government had allowed uninvited parties, including CIO

operatives, to sit in on negotiations. As a result, farm

Qoperatives, to sit in on negotiations. As a result, farm

worker wages have suffered. Currently, negotiated wages

allow for the lowest paid agriculture worker to receive US$10

and a food basket each month.






25. (SBU) The once-powerful Zimbabwean labor movement has

been sharply weakened during the past few years by economic

collapse and rapidly rising unemployment. Shrinking

productivity, hyperinflation and dollarization have whittled

down union dues, eroded the membership base, and undermined

ZCTU’s and its affiliates’ ability to effectively protect and


HARARE 00000275 007 OF 007



advance worker rights. Apart from economic challenges, a

second front has been opened by ZANU-PF “splinter unions”

that are determined to weaken genuine labor movements and

promote ZANU-PF policies and propaganda. These factors

combine to threaten the future of organized labor in Zimbabwe.


26. (SBU) MDC leadership in key ministries such as Labor,

Education, and Public Service has been welcomed by the

unions. However, the MDC is constrained by resources and,

thus far, has been unable to satisfy salary demands from

labor groups, even in priority areas such as public

education. This has led to growing dissatisfaction with the

new government, and more importantly, a growing belief that

while certainly more sympathetic, the MDC may be no more able

to deliver worker benefits than ZANU-PF. END COMMENT.




Don't be shellfish... Please SHAREShare on google
Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Like it? Share with your friends!

Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *