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COLUMNBy Joram Nyathi
IS the silly season already in full swing again? When opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai first set out on his inauspicious tour of the provinces we were told he was consulting the electorate on the troubled coalition talks. Needless to say we expected feedback. Yes or no, either would still make a story. Apparently that story has been hijacked by events, one of which is that Tsvangirai should instead focus his energy on making sure President Mugabe doesn’t participate in next year’s harmonised elections.
The nation knows President Mugabe is a Zanu-PF candidate; not an MDC-T or coalition candidate.
But that’s one of the absurdities which Tsvangirai’s much hyped countrywide tour yielded.
There are many, but for now we want to focus on a matter of greater national significance, a matter which, if not handled delicately, could be abused by #Tajamuka and used by Tsvangirai to boost his electoral chances, terrified though he is, of a free and fair race against a 94-year old Mugabe.
The big issue, after the state of national disaster occasioned by more than forecast rains this season, is the threat by civil servants to embark on protests over non-payment of their annual bonus.
It’s a payment that’s long overdue.
Unfortunately, by Government’s own admission, there is no cash at the moment.
That’s the stark reality.
Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa has repeated that refrain countlessly.
He can’t make money grow on trees; that’s magic for the “prophets”.
There is no cash.
Which is how the issue of stands-for-bonus came about.
Government proposed earlier in the year that it wanted to offer civil servants residential stands in lieu of their annual bonuses.
The proposal was communicated through civil servants’ unions under the Apex Council.
There was scepticism and resistance from the beginning.
The civil servants, mainly teachers, have insisted on the cash demand.
That the bonus is a “right” as said by the President. They are demanding it as an entitlement, as something legally enforceable without alternative or substitute. Even when there is no cash.
The trouble with this approach is that students become pawns when teachers threaten to go on strike. When they ultimately do go on strike, Government can’t turn around and fire them for demanding what it called “a right”.
Parents and guardians who pay the fees are blackmailed and forced to take sides. Those parents and guardians sometimes happen to be teachers themselves and have a direct interest in both the children and the bonus payment.
But why are “civil servants” rejecting residential stands? It is a truism that a majority of them live in rented accommodation, because of low salaries.
There are a number of plausible explanations.
First, they simply want what is due to them. The bonus is treated the same way as a basic salary. Even when there is plenty evidence that Government has no money, witness the delays in the payment of obligatory monthly salaries. Some still believe money is hidden somewhere.
Second, civil servants don’t believe Government is sincere about giving them residential stands. And there has been no attempt to demonstrate that this is feasible under the housing delivery policy initiative as projected in Zim-Asset, which itself takes it from the national Constitution, where Government is enjoined to provide shelter as “a human right”, not a bonus, which should be negotiated under the rubric of Results-Based Management or subject to capacity to pay — a latitude available to Government in the Constitution.
Third, it doesn’t help Government’s case that some, if not all teachers’ union leaders are no longer practising teachers.
They are founders and employees of the unions. They have a stake and jobs to protect otherwise they lose relevance. Those jobs are paid for from teachers’ monthly contributions, which can afford them better salaries and allow them to purchase houses and set up more profitable enterprises. They don’t require Government’s help to acquire residential stands. They must be seen to earn their keep.
Such intermediaries cannot be trusted to explain the difference between a $500 once-off bonus and a life-changing investment in a residential stand. Which can also be sold for a higher price later, after a token payment compared to prices on the open market. How far can a $500 bonus go?
In short, are civil servants, who include teachers, the army and the police, being told the full story by the mediators — the unions?
Fourth, and this is scary, which is why I wouldn’t classify it as plausible: Is it possible that 17 years into the land reform programme, civil servants in particular and Zimbabweans in general, are still sold to the oppositional illusion that we are better off as servants than as own masters?
That we are better off as lodgers than as owners of real estate?
That civil servants are better off with a once-off bonus payment than getting a residential stand?
What would such a mentality tell us about our understanding of the STEM initiative and the purpose of university education?
All that investment to produce more job-seekers in an era of technology where teachers, drivers and cooks may soon be “obsolete”, to use Donald Trump’s view of Nato?
Fifth, is there a possibility that the union leaders, not being civil servants themselves, have decided, taking bona fide civil servants along, to go political?
The insistence on a cash payment where there is no cash is to fix the Government?
That might explain the interest in the teachers’ bonus issue by political pressure groups such as #Tajamuka and National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe.
Otherwise how does one link the civil servants’ genuine demand for their bonus and threat of a strike action with their sudden endorsement by #Tajamuka and its demand for President Mugabe to step down?
The teachers must be wary that their cause is not hijacked for devious ends, unless that is the mandate they have given to the union leaders.
Back to desperate Tsvangirai
Tsvangirai has only one, and last, bite at the cherry.
Tsvangirai has apparently concluded his “successful” charm offensive of the provinces. But the silence on the coalition “theme” must tell us that kite won’t fly. Otherwise he would have been very bullish. That has bred a sense of desperation, yes, troubling desperation.
The feedback from his captured media is to change tack. And that tack is to make a free and fair election unimaginable if not impossible. The message being sent to outsiders, even to Trump who complained about the US election being rigged against him, is that Zanu-PF has already rigged the 2018 harmonised elections.
The rest of us don’t know the date of the elections yet, but are being told part of the rigging is that President Mugabe has been endorsed as the Zanu-PF candidate at the age of 93. That is not fair.
How can he compete against a “youth” like Tsvangirai?
Surely that can’t make for a level playing field.
More seriously, the usual crescendo about violence has picked tempo. The rural areas are terrified and petrified.
Traditional leaders, who all along supported Zanu-PF because they wanted their land back, now we are told no longer want land but Tsvangirai.
And remember who was making noise about ward-based voting and the need for biometric voter registration! The MDC-T and its NGO allies.
Now Tsvangirai tours the country to solicit for people’s views on a coalition, and instead he is told no, that’s not the problem.
The biggest is that voters fear voting in the ward makes them easy targets for violence.
Worse, the BVR will expose where they put their X in the secret ballot box.
For these and other reasons too numerous to mention, concludes Mr Tsvangirai, Mugabe should not be the Zanu-PF presidential candidate next year otherwise he has every genuine fear to lose.