It is common knowledge that rights and freedoms are seldom given or awarded – but, always need to be demanded and taken.
That is why it is virtually unheard of to come across a country that was “given its independence” – but actually, the vast majority (including the big powers, who themselves later turned into colonial masters) at some point in their histories, fought for their own independence from foreign domination, or freedom from ruthless monarchs.
Zimbabwe was definitely no exception to this cardinal rule of life on earth – since, we also needed to take up arms to wage a liberation struggle.
It then goes without saying that, for anyone to finally enjoy the dignity and freedoms they so richly deserve, the only route is for them to demand and fight for those rights.
They will never be awarded on a silver platter – as anyone who harbors such thoughts, is merely a daydreamer, who needs to wake up pretty fast!
Therefore, the world over – when ever citizens feel that their dignity and freedoms are being wantonly trampled upon, they exercise their constitutional rights to demonstrate, strike, sit-in, go-slow, boycott, stay-away, petition, and so many others on the plate.
Where those rights are not enshrined in the law, and are even considered illegal – as was the case in colonial Rhodesia for the country’s majority – the people are eventually forced by their unbearable dire circumstances to take matters into their own hands, even at the risk of imprisonment and death.
In both these scenarios, the basic principles are the same – rights are demanded and taken, and rarely freely and willingly given.
This brings me to the sorrowful and tragic plight of Zimbabwe’s civil servants – most particularly, our esteemed teachers and nurses – who, like every other Zimbabwean, are being choked by the seemingly ever-ending, but worsening, economic challenges being experienced in the country, for the better part of the past two decades.
In spite of the repeated cries and outrage at the meager and unsustainable salaries that they are earning – in the midst of an ever-rising cost of living, leaving most, if not all, surviving on the verge of abject impoverishment – their demands have hardly pushed their employer to act in any meaningful manner.
The only thing that has been seen over the course of the recent years – especially, after the ill-fated reintroduction of the free-falling and ever-depreciating local currency – have been piecemeal salary incrementals, that have always been wiped out by inflation, way before the first pay cheque has even been delivered.
Nonetheless, of late, there has been a trend that teachers and nurses have understandably found most troubling – in that, members of the military have apparently been receiving more regular pay increases (although, still paltry and far below the poverty datum line) – yet, the rest of the civil servants seemingly being forgotten and abandoned.
Why, is the question.
The reason lies in the power dynamics behind the demanding and taking back of one’s rights, dignity, and respectability.
There is clearly no point in making demands without any real power to back them – which threatens the oppressor, and force him into capitulating to the set conditions.
Even during the colonial times – there came a time when it dawned on nationalist leaders that merely issuing demands, undertaking activities (such as demonstrations and strikes), and endless senseless negotiations, was not enough to send seismic waves through the corridors of power, and would never force the Rhodesia regime to yield.
There was need for Plan B – and, that Plan B was launching the liberation struggle.
At this juncture, let me emphasize the fact that this was not a one day event – whereby, one or two shots were fired (that is why the famed Sinoia Battle, conducted by only seven combatants, was a resounding failure, which led to the needless loss of life) – but, a protracted freedom fight, only to stop when the majority’s demands had been heeded.
As I have always told those around me – half-baked and half-hearted action, always leads to similarly half-baked and half-hearted results.
Such is the challenge we painful witness with our perennially-moaning civil servants – and, Zimbabweans in general – who appear to harbor some deluded belief that these seemingly reluctantly-made demands, against the repressive regime, will somehow miraculously yield the desired results.
At least, the reason the country’s security forces are receiving some token, but insignificant, salary increases, is on account of their being armed with deadly weapons of war – which, should they decide to use them against their masters, can easily lead to catastrophic and unenviable consequences.
What, then, do our teachers and nurses have in their arsenal?
Indeed, they are not without their own powerful weapons – which include, constitutionally-enshrined rights, as peacefully demonstrating, striking, sitting-in, going-slow, boycotting, staying-away, and petitioning.
Yet, regardless of these powers – our civil servants, as well as the general suffering and impoverished population, have seldom been determined enough to fully put them to effective use.
Instead, what the country has so heart-rendingly watched, in utter disbelief, have been threats of action after threats of action – without anything worth noting ever transpiring.
How, then, do they expect to be taken seriously, and their demands finally given the seriousness they deserve – when, even us at home, are now fully aware that these ultimatums are nothing more than hot air?
Nothing concrete and meaningful – that can give their employers any cause to get up, and act – has ever come out of all these endless empty threats.
So, why should they expect to finally get what they believe to be their rightful dues?
Threats of action can shake an oppressor only for a while – but, once it is determined that there is hardly anything beyond these, then they cease to shake.
It is akin to a naughty child, who at some point actually believed his mother’s threats of “ndinokurova” (I will beat you up), leading to his immediate obedience – yet, once he figured out that if he continued in his mischievousness, nothing ever became of this promised punishment, he subsequently stopped being frightened.
This is the same situation we find in Zimbabwe today – with a repressive government that has figured out that, all these ultimatums of impending mass action, will eventually amount to zero.
Those in the corridors of power now know that, all that is required is to either suspend those engaging in any collective job action, or deduct money from their already measly salaries, or overlook them in such “side gigs” as examination markers, polling officers, and census enumerators.
… and, this collective job action house of cards comes humiliatingly tumbling down!
Furthermore, as mentioned earlier – half-baked and half-hearted action, results in half-baked and half-hearted solutions – as such, even when industrial action in undertaken, the likelihood of that this will last for only a day or two, or well before any meaningful solution has been agreed upon with the employer.
Not surprisingly, the same grievances will not be too far away – and, a need for more threats of collective job action – since, there was never a real lasting solution put in place, because of the half-baked and half-hearted nature of these measures.
As long as our civil servants remain on this ill-advised path, then the results are there for all to see – sooner rather than later, even those paltry salary increments they are currently being awarded will inevitably come to a screeching halt – as those in power become more and more comfortable in the toothlessness of their workers.
© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, researcher, and social commentator. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263715667700 / +263782283975, or Calls Only: +263788897936 / +263733399640, or email: email@example.com