Work now, get paid later… maybe

Elementary school in Zimbabwe
Zimbabweans may be desperate but even they require more for their labour than empty commitments. Qualified Zimbabweans have emigrated and taken menial jobs but they reject the offer to work in good faith in Zimbabwe.

After being sworn in, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai publicly announced a “commitment that as from the end of the month, our professionals in the civil service, every health worker, every teacher, every soldier and every policeman would receive pay in foreign currency.”

Tsvangirai therefore asked that “every school teacher, every school be reopened and that every member of the civil service is behind his desk or her desk on Monday’ – a call that was optimistic but not realistic.

The Prime Minister offered no details at that point to quell questions and scepticism. But the public demanded to know where the money is coming from and he later confirmed their suspicions that he doesn’t have it.

I have made a commitment and we have to find the money to pay them,“ Tsvangirai said. ”But how much, it still hasn’t been decided.

Acting Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, tried to add reassurance with vague details of “vouchers worth $US100, which will be redeemable for goods or cash in foreign currency.”

Show me the money

The announcement of salaries paid in foreign currency should have been viewed as a victory.

Most teachers and many civil and medical professionals quit working last year and made it clear that they would not return unless they were paid in foreign currency.

Zimbabwe’s economy is almost completely dollarised. Most businesses including shops, schools, landlords, transportation and even hospitals now require payment in US dollars or South African rand.

But, Monday came and went. Teachers remained on strike. The desks and departments of many civil servants remained empty.

As the circumstances are, the Progressive Teachers Union (PTU) reportedly said that “its workers would not return to work even if the instruction came from Jesus.”

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZTCU), which recently said “no to dollarisation and the extension of America into Zimbabwe,” urged workers to give Tsvangirai the benefit of the doubt.

ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo said, “the statement came from the paymaster himself and who are we to question him?”

Matombo acknowledged that workers, particularly teachers and nurses, need to borrow money for them to be able to go to work but urged them in the spirit of co-existence.”

And, although Matombo said that there was no doubt in his mind that Tsvangirai’s statement was “well-thought out and well-researched,” it seems both men are ignoring reality.

Unemployment is estimated to now exceed 90% and over half the population survives on food aid, making a vast pool of lenders unlikely.

Furthermore, according to UNICEF, 94% of rural schools were abandoned last year and many have been vandalised. There are no books and no supplies, and schools are without functioning sanitation systems during a rampant cholera outbreak.

Sifiso Ndlovu, of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association said, “For teachers to go back to work, they need to have the foreign currency in their pockets first.

Unless Tsvangirai is privy to something we are not aware of, I am quite convinced in this in this instance he got drunk on the adoration of his supporters and promised the undeliverable, unless he has his own foreign currency printing press,” wrote Grace Mutandwa, the British Embassy’s Press and Public Relations Officer.

Not all about the money

Raymond Majongwe, Secretary General of the PTU discouraged “this idea where issues of professional importance are discussed at rallies and funerals.”

This is not an issue of going back to work because Tsvangirai is Prime Minister,“ Majongwe said. ”We have real labour issues affecting us.

Tendai Chikowore, of the APEX Council, which represents Zimbabwe’s civil services, said “civil servants would wait for formal communication from the government before moving forward.”

What is important are the details of the package and how much it has covered in as far as meeting our expectations,” he added.

While Prime Minister Tsvangirai continues looking for money to fulfill his promise, workers continue looking for solid answers compelling them to act on it.

Michelle Smith for RT