Sources within the country’s largest labour representative body say two factions have emerged in the general council, the highest decision-making body in between congresses, as the battle for the control of the country’s largest labour body erupts.
The battle has been politicised amid contested allegations that a rival camp linked to the ruling Zanu-PF is plotting to overthrow the Peter Mutasa-led executive. The rival faction, which has the organisation’s deputy secretary-general Thomas Masvingwe denies association with Zanu-PF, arguing the allegations are being pushed by rivals who want to cling onto power.
While the ZCTU has always been perceived to be an extension of the opposition MDC Alliance because of its founding background, a group has reportedly emerged backing the ruling party, which has for years been accused of trying to take control of the labour body.
The ZCTU is considered an influential force in Zimbabwean politics, making it a battlefield for political parties seeking the support of thousands of workers.
Affiliate unions and their members who support the two antagonistic political parties are also pushing for candidates from their respective favoured parties to take control of the labour body with the hope they would better represent the interests of workers in the country.
But things came to a head last week when a local publication published a story which alleged that ZCTU president Mutasa had looted funds from the federation, which has 36 affiliate unions from different sectors.
The publication quoted Masvingwe as the source of the information, inviting the ire of pro-Mutasa members, who took to social media to express their disgust, describing him as a Zanu-PF mole out to destroy the union from within.
Masvingwe was quoted in the online publication as alleging that Mutasa had used his influence as the chairperson of the finance committee to unconstitutionally authorise the sale of the union’s property and had used some of the proceeds from his loot to buy houses for himself across the country.
As the debate over the article raged on among union members in various groups, the general council, in which both Masvingwe and Mutasa sit, ordered that all social media groups using the ZCTU logo and name in their groups stop doing so.
“All affiliates and ZCTU leadership, including structures, are therefore, advised to inform their members or any union leaders that may be administering groups where workers interact to remove the ZCTU name and logo forthwith,” reads part of a memo dated February 1, 2021 addressed to the ZCTU leadership, regional officers and structures.
But Mutasa issued a personal response to the publication, saying it contained defamatory and untrue allegations against him and the ZCTU.
“The article contains defamatory and untrue allegations against me and the ZCTU. I am aware that the regime has been looking for incriminating information against me. It seeks to use that to arrest me on spurious charges and to tarnish my name. It has been tracking my movements and also seeking cooperation with those close to me at my workplace or anyone I am associated with. It has also profiled me from my young age and throughout my adult life as shown in this article,” he said.
Mutasa said state agents had told him on several occasions that they would make sure he was out of the ZCTU, alleging they regarded the labour body under the current leadership as terrorist, confrontational and at odds with the pliant labour movement they envisage.
He said he was therefore not surprised to see such “rubbish coming from an obscure publication which clearly is a cover for secret services” and was only responding because the article cited Masvingwe as the source of the information.
“All the allegations are not factual and are completely denied. This is clearly the work of the regime’s secret services. This is aimed at influencing the ZCTU Congress outcomes and other processes. The regime aims to interfere with ZCTU operations and seek to remove, at any cost, those viewed to be against it,” he said.
The ZCTU president said no money was looted at the ZCTU. He said the audit trail of all transactions showed what was paid to whom and for what purposes, adding that after the 2016 congress, Masvingwe had raised this issue and was allowed to scrutinise all the documents. He said Masvingwe was satisfied with the state of the finances.
“Although I was chairperson of the Finance Committee, I was not involved in the authorisation of that transaction or any other transactions authorised at appropriate levels,” Mutasa said.
Masvingwe, however, scoffed at suggestions that he was being used by Zanu-PF, saying it was the joke of a lifetime.
“It is a false and malicious allegation. I have been with ZCTU since 1988. I worked full time for the ZCTU from 2003 to 2006. My loyalty to the ZCTU is unquestionable,” he said.
“There are no fissures in the ZCTU. We are approaching our elective congress and some in leadership would like to stick to positions. There is no beef between me and Peter (Mutasa). I nominated and advocated that he be president of ZCTU in 2016. I do not support his candidature for the same post in 2021, this is the essence of democracy. I disagree with comrades on working with any political party which bashes working class interests. In my view, none of the political parties currently dominating political space in Zimbabwe pursues working class interests,” he said.
He said Mutasa, while allowed by the labour constitution to seek re-election, was pre-emptively making false claims through a fake publication. He alleged the ZCTU president was actually behind the said article in a bid to seek sympathy from colleagues, a move he said was not clever as there were “gaps in the charade”.
ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo, however, downplayed the fissures in the labour body, saying the issues never came up for discussion at the general council meeting held last Friday.
“That has not been an issue at all among members. The majority members still appreciate its history, that it is a diverse organisation having been formed by different national centres that had different political beliefs,” Moyo said.
He said members had always closed ranks when it came to workers’ issues and had always spoken with one voice.
“Even after being called a terrorist organisation and the leadership and membership jailed by the ruling party, we are at the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF),” he said.
The ZCTU formed the MDC in 1999, with its then secretary-general, the late Morgan Tsvangirai, seconded to lead the party, which was to become the biggest opposition party in the country and the biggest threat to Zanu-PF’s grip on power since Independence in 1980.