May Day Commemorations in the face of COVID-19 Pandemic

This year’s workers’ day commemorations come at a time when the world is confronted with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has exposed fault lines in the way our societies are organized. Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ union of Zimbabwe, ARTUZ will dedicate this year’s commemorations to fighting Corona virus and further reflect on how the workplace should be reorganized post the COVID-19 crisis.

We salute the Haymarket martyrs of Chicago, who gave their lives in 1886, passionately fighting for an eight-hour workday. Theirs was a noble struggle which bore fruits in 1916 when a law was passed to protect an eight-hour workday. Today we feel duty bound to defend the labour rights won in the past and further expand workers’ power at the workplace and in society in general.

Combatting COVID-19

ARTUZ notes with disappointment the shambolic manner in which Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care, MoHCC has discharged its duties in face of the Coronavirus crisis. The Ministry has failed to conduct mass testing, tracing and isolation of suspected cases. Reports of people leaving quarantine centers before the expiry of the mandatory 21 days are embarrassing. Incidences of COVID-19 victims dying and being buried before positive results of tests are announced are an indictment of the efficiency of our health system. To date 7 642 tests have been conducted, 40 tested positive, 5 recovered and 4 succumbed to the deadly virus.

Our front line defenders, the health care workers are working without adequate Personal Protective Equipment, PPEs and are underpaid. The hospitals are critically under resourced and we have been begging for well-wishers to assist us. Never mind the lies of the shameless Minister of Finance professor Mthuli Ncube, who was quoted in international media boasting that our health care systems are very strong.

Given this background of a collapsed health care system it will be foolhardy for anyone to even imagine schools being opened anytime soon. We reiterate our position that schools should only be opened when the virus has been fully contained. Teachers and learners should only be readmitted in schools after being tested. Our schools should be disinfected, PPE should be provided, sanitizers should be available in all schools and social distancing should be practiced.

ARTUZ will stand firm to defend the continued closure of schools, we will not condone the mass decimation of workers and our learners through a premature and ill-conceived schools opening.

We applaud government for sustaining the payment of civil servants’ salaries during this crisis. The salaries remain paltry and should be reviewed in line with the wave of price hikes we have witnessed. Private sector should take a cue from government and continue to pay their workforce.

The majority of our people are unemployed and are starving in their homes as they take heed of the noble call for a lockdown. We urge the government to urgently handout a livelihood package for our desperate citizens. The previous package which was said to have been distributed through “sophisticated algorithms” assuming they were telling the truth, they excluded those with no mobile phones who are the most vulnerable. The 200 RTGS allocated per household was also inadequate as it cannot cover the basics.

Continuing education during the crisis

ARTUZ has rolled out an online teaching program targeting the low income earners from the Primary and Secondary education sector. The lessons are conducted on the more accessible Whatsapp platform with over 5 000 learners benefitting so far. The program is for candidates for 2020 public examinations.

We note that our initiative is inadequate and excludes the majority of our learners who have no access to neither smart phones nor internet connection. It is against this background that we are urging government to avail learning packages for candidates for 2020 public examinations. Such a learning package should target the traditional beneficiaries of the government sponsored Basic Education access Model, BEAM. We are also open to dialogue on ways of sustaining education.

For tertiary education government should dialogue with students’ unions and labour to co-create a working model for sustaining education.

It should be noted that radio and television could have been ideal mediums for sustaining education during this crisis, but the airwaves in Zimbabwe are closed, only the state and the connected are licensed to operate. Both TV and radio have been adulterated after being reduced to mediums of communicating state propaganda. The average Zimbabwean family doesn’t own a radio, not because of the cost but because it is no longer popular.

Lessons learnt from COVID-19 and way forward

The cliché borrowed from the Christian bible, “You must work while it is day when night comes nobody can work!” perfectly explains why Zimbabwe was caught flat footed by this pandemic. We were not working during day, night is upon us, we can’t work but we still want to enjoy the fruits of work.

We have squandered valuable time engaging in political bickering at the expense of production. We have allowed individuals to plunder our national wealth leaving our Consolidated Revenue Fund empty. We have failed to enhance internet connectivity for our people and have destroyed nation’s trust of radio and television. Our State has failed to unite our people and we have become a State without a nation.

Our healthcare system is in a mess, just like any other social services. It is embarrassing to note that our government doesn’t even have a register of the people in need of welfare support. Besides failing to support our citizens we don’t even know who needs assistance and the exact form of assistance needed by each one of our citizens. We have to rely on “Sophisticated Algorithms.”

At the work place we have once again been reminded of the need for decent jobs. Jobs with salaries above poverty datum line, such salaries will enable us to save as workers. Employment contracts should be more secure, guaranteeing leave days and sustained salaries during these crisis seasons. Our salaries should be enough to cater for a proper medical aid and the nation should have reliable health services.

It is the State’s responsibility to make the people productive through creating decent jobs. If the state fails in that regard it has to bear the responsibility of providing welfare support to all its citizens.

The scourge of corruption should be attended to with uncompromising mighty and diligence. The likes of Sakunda Holdings and other connected companies should not be allowed to continue on the devious path of looting our resources. We note the desperate attempts of self-cleansing by the front man of Sakunda, one Tagwirei. No amount of donations will cleanse the soiled image of Sakunda which is a clear conduit for mass looting.

We cannot afford to tolerate an incompetent, lazy, corrupt and repressive government. The cost of allowing them to rule is too high. We are now forced to pay with our lives. Some of the government officials are now overwhelmed with the current crisis and might be forced to resign.

When day comes we should work, but the most important assignment is to get our governance right. It is sad to note that the current government is seized with adulterating the national constitution, allocating more powers to the executive. They are eroding the little gains made in the flawed 2013 constitution.

To get our governance right we should once again agitate for a new constitution which guarantees rights and freedoms of our people.

To the current government we are kindly asking them to shape up or we will ship them out. We have learnt the hard way, we will no longer tolerate mediocrity in governance.

Power to the workers!!!
Power to the people!!!
Service and sacrifice!!!

Source: Obert Masaraure, Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ)

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