Zimbabwe Newspapers, which seems to have come under pressure to deal with journalists that are supposedly working for foreign interests, may have through its overzealousness inadvertently strengthened the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists instead of weakening it when it fired ZUJ president Matthew Takaona.
Takaona was allegedly fired for handling the grievances of more than 200 members of Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, publishers of the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday, who are facing retrenchment.
As Media and Information Commission chief, Tafataona Mahoso rightly said, there was probably more to Takaona’s dismissal than met the eye because it was well known that Takaona was president of ZUJ and had addressed meetings before without any problems from his employers.
Takaona’s dismissal came only weeks after that of his colleagues Robson Sharuko, Tendai Ndemera and Rex Mphisa of the Herald. They were accused of filing stories for the Voice of America. The Media and Information Commission defended the sacking of the three.
Takaona’s case was different. He is likely to clean out the troubled newspaper stable which has just turned around but is reported to be still in trouble. Market analysts say although the newspaper group turned around to profitability, its balance sheet was in “atrocious shape” and it was underperforming.
Unlike his colleagues, Takaona is likely to receive a better golden handshake. Sources say the newspaper group, which was probably under pressure from outside to fire him -the hand of Information Minister Jonathan Moyo not being too far- is under tremendous pressure to settle. Takaona is calling the shots because the newspaper group blundered.
Sources say the group wanted to give Takaona his job back but he has been advised to take a package because he could be fired, this time on more flimsy grounds and might lose his benefits.
Takaona is probably thanking his luck stars because his sacking will enable him to devote more time to the union, which apparently is receiving a lot of support from donors to build a strong secretariat. Apparently, Moyo had got wind of this and wanted to thwart the union.
ZUJ has now realised that it cannot continue to operate the way it has been doing for almost two decades, that of running without a full-time secretariat. Takaona and his colleagues were working on establishing a full-time secretariat when he was fired. The workshop held at Masvingo, which was stormed by intelligence officials who had been misled to think it was a meeting to arrange demonstrations against the dismissal of Takaona, was a planning meeting to establish that secretariat.
ZUJ has been finding it difficult to operate without a fulltime secretariat. It is probably the only affiliate of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions that does not have a full-time secretariat. This has tended to weaken the union because office bearers are subject to intimidation from their employers.
Most full-time workers of trade unions earn their living from defending workers and therefore are not subject to the whims of their employers. There is a feeling that Information Minister Jonathan Moyo could have acted too hastily probably after being informed that a western organisation was funding the restructuring of the union.
He could also have underestimated the resolve among journalists, including those within the state media to free the media from his shackles as most journalists believe he is destroying the profession by promoting his puppets under the veil of patriotism.
What remains to be seen is how Takaona will steer the union, if he is finally given his package and opts to work full-time for the union. Former ZUJ president Vincent Chikwari tried to steer the union into having a full-time secretariat in the 1990s. He mobilised the funding, but the plan flopped because of squabbles within the union as the full-time secretariat was going to pay better salaries than most full-time journalists were earning.
Takaona could face the same problem. Already there was a lot of jostling for the vacant posts before the Masvingo meeting. But with the frustrations most journalists are facing at the moment, they have probably learnt their lesson. It is better for them to unite and forget about the artificial state/independent divide because it is actually being used to divide them.