ARTUZ sowing seeds of discord

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By Elizabeth Sitotombe

“The greatest villains are the ones who believe they are doing the right thing,” is a statement that well resonates with some of Zimbabwe’s labour unions. 

There is nothing wrong with unions negotiating with the Government on behalf of their members for better pay and working conditions. The problem comes when they weaponise their grievances for political purposes.

Recently, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) called for a strike, claiming that after ‘wide consultations’ with their membership across the country and had decided to boycott work until their salary demands were met. 

ARTUZ, a member of the radical union coalition that calls itself the Federation of Zimbabwe Educators Union (FOZEU), said it would disregard the laid-down channels that require Government representatives, civil servants and employer representatives to negotiate in good faith under the umbrella of the National Joint Negotiating Council (NJNC).

The proposed strike action comes against the backdrop of FOZEU’s call for its members to down tools from March 20-22 2024, following salary adjustments by the Government which they said fell short of their demands.

The strike was a monumental flop. 

This prompted ARTUZ’s recent call for another strike, which was subsequently endorsed by its fellow FOZEU members. 

It boggles the mind why ARTUZ would think teachers will heed their strike call when one by FOZEU had been ignored.

This could be a case of overestimating their influence, as evidenced by how ARTUZ recklessly refer to themselves as heroes. 

“Amidst the trials and tribulations that plague us, we, the heroic educators of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), refuse to be silenced any longer,” said the toothless rural-based teachers’ representative body in a statement.

 “Today, we raise our voices in a resonant chorus, demanding nothing less than a fair wage of US$1 260 that reflects the true value of unwavering dedication and tireless efforts.”

 No sane person disputes that it is the workers’ constitutional right to demand decent wages from their employers, but this must be done within the confines of the law. 

 ARTUZ, however, seems hellbent on confrontation, thus exposing a hidden agenda contrary to the spirit of negotiating in good faith. 

This is the same organisation whose leadership has been brought before the courts over allegations of attempting to subvert a constitutionally elected Government on several occasions. 

This time around, civil servants have refused to be used as pawns in political chess games in which they are the losers. After all, it is only the union leaders who benefit from the donor funds which make it possible for them to lead lavish lifestyles.

The same Western donor-funded outfit was forced to call off a strike that was snubbed by fellow teacher trade unions.

“We are calling off the job action and asking our resolute comrades and other teachers to report for duty,” wrote ARTUZ representative in a statement.

“We have conducted a survey and we accept that the numbers of the teachers who responded to the call are too low. The strike has failed.

Our analysis of the failure of the job action has revealed the following:

Yellow, sweetheart, or darling teacher trade unions who have long sold out the struggle of teachers and now doing the bidding of the employer, have in cahoots with other dubious public sector labour bodies, been derailing the momentum of the build-up to the strike by using their proximity to Government, to send conflicting messages to the teachers including actively demobilising the strike and distancing themselves from the call.

The Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe whilst acknowledging the failure of the strike, and also to protect its members and other teachers from unnecessary targeting and victimization which comes when small numbers engage in job action, will from Monday, 13 May 2024 embark on creative dilemma actions that will sustain pressure on the employer until the demand for a living wage is respected and teachers are paid.

We will totally shut down the public schools someday if our demands are not met. Let us continue building the momentum. Teachers go back to work. We live to fight another day.”

ARTUZ should learn from President Emmerson Mnangagwa that it takes a collective effort to fix our problems. 

The new dispensation is working flat out to restore the country to its former glory and this includes improving the welfare of civil servants across the board. 

Let us remember that Rome was not built in a day. There are ongoing negotiations between the NJNC and the relevant authorities. Any other salary talks — or threatened job action — outside of this framework are contrary to the country’s developmental thrust anchored on the mantra ‘nyika inovakwa nevene vayo’.

Previously called the Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (RTUZ), ARTUZ was established in 2009 and formally launched on March 12 2013 in Harare.

On November 20 2016, RTUZ merged with other rural teachers’ associations to form ARTUZ which now claims has a membership of about 5 000 and 200 associate members countrywide. 

Its founding vice-president is Gaudencia Mandiopera, with Robson Chere and Macdonald Kondo serving as the secretary-general and spokesperson, respectively.

A former ZINASU member and activist whose anti-Government stance is well documented, Obert Masaraure leads ARTUZ. He also doubles as FOZEU’s secretary. As if taking a cue from Masaraure, ZINASU members last month threatened to shut down universities and colleges if their demands were not met. 

Masaraure has a tainted past involving misguided activism at the Midlands State University (MSU) from which he was suspended in 2006, 2008, 2009 and finally expelled in 2010.

In 2017, he attended the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders (YALI) programme in the US, an institute misnamed and especially dedicated to ‘grooming’ young people to push for regime change.  It, therefore, comes as no surprise that ARTUZ is more of an opposition party than a bona fide organisation with rural teachers’ interests at heart.

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