Whenever I hear the Zimbabwe government announce a civil servants’ salary increment, I can not help being thoroughly perplexed, if not downright bewildered, by the proud and self-congratulatory manner in which those in authority obviously consider to be exceedingly generous offers, which demand recognition and unlimited appreciation from not only the recipients, but also the nation, at large.
This apparently arrogant and conceited attitude is further exposed through the disdainful disregard of any consultations with the affected relevant stakeholders in the civil service, thereby, formulating, implementing, and announcing most of these salary adjustments without their involvement, knowledge, and approval – as if, in a twisted and warped attempt to ‘surprise’ these industrious and dedicated men and women, who have given their all to the welfare and well-being of this nation, the government expected a huge gratulatory “Thank you”.
However, for these gallant men and women – who have selflessly taught and trained us all the skills and knowledge we possess today; who have tenderly treated and cured all our nagging, or even debilitating, illnesses; who have sacrificially protected and defended our national sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and who have vigilantly secured our lives and property, through maintaining law and order – there is absolutely nothing deserving any celebrating, nor showering those in authority with praises.
Why would they? If anything, they have every reason and right to be aggrieved, and feel seriously shortchanged by the Zimbabwe administration.
How else could they feel, when it is the government itself that has callously and cold-heartedly contravened all tenets of labour law, by ‘stealing’ its own employees’ salaries – yet, somehow disingenuously expecting to be rewarded with a pat on the back, when, in actually fact, what it rightfully deserves a slap in the face!
I have often characterized actions by the Harare administration towards its workers, as a robber who steals a car, then decides to return only the wheel to his victim – then, foolishly expects to be treated like Santa Clause, through unparalleled applauding and gratitude.
I am certainly not exaggerating!
Let us not forget that when civil servants signed contracts of employment, their employer was obligated to pay their salaries in United States dollars (USD) – such that, a teacher, for instance, was legally entitled to an average of USD520 per month.
This was the case, up until, the government decided – in its typical and inherent contemptuous manner, deprived of any meaningful consultations with relevant stakeholders, especially the citizenry – myopically and imprudently decided to re-introduce the long-buried useless Zimbabwe dollar, in February 2019, through Statutory Instrument 33 of 2019, legislating the RTGS Dollar pseudo-currency as legal tender.
This was, of course, after the equally dubious decision to define this same RTGS Dollar as a currency, under Statutory Instrument 32 of 2019, in the same month.
Up until then – due to the perennial shortages of the USD in the country, and the subsequent introduction of local Bond Notes in November 2016, which the authorities stipulated as being at par (1:1) with the USD – civil servants had been receiving their salaries in this local denomination, merely as a compromise, but certainly not because their prior contractual agreements to be paid in the Greenback had been altered.
However, after the catastrophic ill-planned February 2019 monetary policy decision, the local currency commenced its dramatic freefall against all major foreign currencies, such that, in real terms, civil servants’ – and other employees’ – salaries, which were pegged to the USD, swiftly lost their values.
As if that was not tragic enough, the ever-bungling Zimbabwe government, in June 2019, proceeded to enact Statutory Instrument 142 of 2019, that declared the Zimbabwe Dollar (ZWD) – an offshoot of the RTGS Dollar – to be the sole legal tender in the country for all transactions – thereby, effectively outlawing any other foreign currency, including the USD, that civil servants were contractually entitled to as payment for their crucial services.
Yet, instead of their employer doing the logical and legal thing, by converting the civil servants’ salaries from the legally-binding USDs to their local currency equivalent – the authorities stubbornly and illegitimately continued paying them the same amount they had been receiving in Bond Notes.
As much as these salaries have undergone numerous cosmetic ‘increments’, the fact still remains that the government has been shortchanging its employees – as a matter of fact, these hard-working and devoted men and women effectively had their salaries stolen by their bosses.
For instance, as I write this article, a teacher earns an average gross salary of ZWD3,500 – an equivalent of USD45 per month.
Which means that, an employee is being defrauded an average of USD475 each and every month, of the USD520 that he or she was earning before the monetary policy madness began.
Just to imagine – from an estimated 50,000 teachers in Zimbabwe, the government is prejudicing its workers an average of USD24 million each month!
Now, is that not plainly daylight robbery of unprecedented proportions? Lest we forget, the country’s labour laws vehemently disallow the downgrading of any employee’s remuneration without his or her consent – and, our civil servants most assuredly, never consented to such.
Furthermore, recent figures released by the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) showed that the monthly cost of living for a family of six in April, skyrocketed to ZWD7,171 – meaning that a teacher, for instance, would be short ZWD3,671 – an amount more than his or her salary.
Therefore, when the Zimbabwe administration proudly and self-conceitedly announced, yesterday, a USD75 salary ‘increment’ for its workers – and, USD30 for its even more disadvantaged and forgotten pensioners – did they surely expect them to jump up and down, in wild transports of joy?
What did they honestly think their teachers, nurses, police and military officers would say? “Thank you”?
If anything, after this insulting offer – the government still owes its civil servants an average of USD400 each, per month. This is most certainly a gross travesty of justice.
Is there, then, any wonder why the country has such a disgruntled and demoralized civil service?
Is this not unashamedly ruthless and stone-hearted for any administration – which touts itself as being a servant leadership, with a listening presidency – especially, in the midst of this Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) global outbreak, to treat its workers, who are mostly at the frontline in fighting and curbing this pandemic, like worthless dispensable pieces of junk?
These are the men and women who are putting their lives at perilous risk taking care of the sick in our medical facilities; who are bravely enforcing the lockdown and trying to keep everyone safe; and equipping our children for a brighter future, as they prepare for the reopening of schools, amidst an overwhelming threat.
Do they not deserve some dignity? Are they not worthy of our gratitude? Why can they not be awarded their just salaries, in accordance to their contractual agreements?
Thus, would they be wrong to be aggrieved and feel cheated? Would they not be justified to express this disgruntlement in constitutional ways that they seem appropriate?
After all, the Holy Bible says, “A labourer is worthy of his or her wages”. Were those in government not praying and fasting only a few days ago? So,was it all merely pretence?
The writer Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker who writes here in his personal capacity. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Calls: +263733399640 / +263715667700, or Calls Only: +263782283975 / +263788897936, or email: [email protected]