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Report back from Zimbabwe, June 2016

2 August 2016

TSSA President Mick Carney writes about his recent visit to ZARWU transport trade union in Zimbabwe.

Before meeting up with ZARWU in Zimbabwe I spent a few days leave in Cape Town. We were given the opportunity to meet up with the IFWEA and comrades from the LRS Labour Research Services, a body something similar to our Labour Research Department, but also involved in campaign work.

We were given an update on the situation across the South African trade union movement and sadly the picture is far from rosy. Membership is falling across the union movement despite evidence that, as in Britain, union membership can lead to better working conditions and higher wages. But this is all relevant in South Africa. South Africa stands number one in the world in wage disparity. Average wages stand around R13000 about £620 a month

However the majority are paid only R3000 and for some in unorganised industries as little as R1700. This is creating a worker uprisings are often not union led and people are walking away from the unions many of which led in the struggle against apartheid.

Community house where we met was a fascinating building with a rich history of struggle. It was the centre of the anti apartheid movement in Cape Town. Intricate Murals decorate the walls many depicting leaders and fighters of the movement murdered by the security forces. Now like much of South Africa it is struggling to find its way.

The ANC once the great hope, now follows neo liberal policies familiar in the west. The Communist Party of South Africa are looking to walk away from the alliance and internal violence is on the rise.


Zimbabwe

Immediately on landing you can see the difference between Zimbabwe and South Africa. Bulawayo Airport is more like a municipal airport in the UK. It has 2 flights a day in and out. It has a rundown feel about it, badly in need of repair and a lick of paint. Bulawayo is arguably Zimbabwe's second city. But then they weren't going to let me in at the airport so maybe I'm biased.

The theme of being rundown and in need of repair perpetuates throughout our stay. Roads potholed, factories running at quarter strength and a general feel of dilapidation. We were met at the airport by our hosts ZARWU and taken to 'the Winston Churchill Hotel. Much of Bulawayo still bears the look of a British town. The signs of colonial rule are everywhere. Much of it has not seen investment or repair since then as the ruling ZANU PF party looks after itself and Mugabe's cronies. Zimbabwe now imports food grown in Zambia and South Africa by the very people it forced off the land. Of course colonial rule had to end but the ruling party had a duty to work to a fair settlement for all people not just the chosen few from the military.

The conference itself took place in Plumtree, a small town not too far from the border with Botswana. When the railways first came to Zimbabwe Plumtree was the first town to get a station. That's why ZARWU choose it as the venue for their conference.

The Zarwu President took us for a run into Botswana and the difference between the two countries was noticeable from the start. Botswana has a stable, well run economy. The roads were not pot holed. In Frasertown the shops were bustling, nothing of the like we had seen in Zimbabwe. Kumri the Zarwu President took the opportunity to buy parts for his car that were just not available in his own country.

After a short visit we headed back to the border with Zimbabwe. It was here we found out what a single entry visa was, self explanatory really but we never noticed it. So after buying new visas and hanging around at a border crossing (a process which took about two hours) we were back in Zimbabwe

The delegates themselves came from all over Zimbabwe. Many have not been paid for up to sixteen months. The railway structure is in near terminal decay, signalling systems long since condemned and the on electrified line has had its overhead cables stolen as people do anything they can to survive. The former Army General charged with the running of the railways lives in opulence nearby.

The conference itself was not like our own. There were no motions as such, more a series of complaints or grievances. These were taken in a closed session. First Kenny, the General Secretary took a roll call of everyone who was meant to be in the room, challenging anyone whose fellow delegate was missing. I was taking note.

The invited guests such as ourselves were invited to speak, many of the Zimbabwean speakers reiterating the hardships that many in their country were suffering.

The Sunday was set aside for elections, both President, Vice President and the whole EC. All elections have to be done behind and closed doors by show of hands because there is always a risk of Mugabe interference. In between votes the whole conference bursts into song and dance, I have never known a union conference bring its own DJ.

Above everything though what I will remember is not the conference or the epic journey to get there but it is the incredible warmth of the people. The gratitude shown to TSSA as a whole was moving, in our own small way we have made a difference.

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