Zimbabwe’s Labour Law Amendment Implications


The South African apartheid policy was based upon the ideological foundation that non-whites were a “detriment, drain and danger to the whites, and should therefore live separately from the white population.”


This resulted in “the creation of ten autonomous Bantustans through the 1951 Bantu Self-Government Act, affording to the natives autonomous sovereignty over traditional tribal lands and transferring their citizenship from the greater country to only that of their particular tribal affiliation, effectively disenfranchising the non-white population from South African political life.”


One particular law enacted by the apartheid regime that betrayed the racist foundations of the apartheid ideology was the 1949 “Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act No 55.” This act forbade marriages between whites and non-whites. Furthermore the “Immorality Act of 1957” which prohibited intimate relations between white people and people of other races also betrayed the racist ideological foundations of apartheid.


Yet, the incongruity of these edicts is indisputable. I mean why would anyone attempt to legislate who a person is allowed to marry? At the end of the day, these laws were clear infringements of individual rights.


Now, the relevance of these apartheid analogies to Zimbabwe’s current national affairs is significant. The fact is, by the mid-1980s it was clear that the apartheid behemoth was on its knees, and as a result all the major South African political economic and social heads were huddling and haggling.


Nevertheless, in the course of the mid-1980s negotiations, one of the clear tell-tale signs that the end of apartheid was imminent was the enactment of the Immorality and Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Amendment Act, 1985 (Act No. 72 of 1985).


This act of the South African parliament repealed the laws prohibiting marriage and sexual intercourse between white people and people of other races, and as a result it served as a legal indicator to social and political analysts that the impractical and unsustainable apartheid policy was reaching its end.


In light of the above, I’d like to zero in on certain aspects of the Zimbabwean legislature and their possible socio-economic indicators.


Firstly, labour laws in Zimbabwe are in the process of being amended in order to make it easier for employers to hire, fire and retrench employees, and to ensure that employees are paid for what they produce, and not just for being at work.


This is a significant legislative step, because historically, the labour laws in Zimbabwe have favored employees. In fact, prior to independence most African countries saw a coalescence of Black African trade unionism and African nationalism in the effort to achieve independence; and furthermore, the labour-nationalist coalition was often characterized by populist pro-socialist, pro-worker and pro-poor approaches to policy.


The same is also true in Zimbabwe where it was active Black trade unionism that organized the strikes of 1960, which arguably created a context for the spread of nationalism and liberation consciousness. Consequently, up until 1980, one could argue that black trade unions and African nationalist movements sang from the same song sheet.


After 1980, however, the pre-independence Marxist Leninist and socialist rhetoric of the liberation rulers slowly gave way to neo-liberal pro-business policies which included trade liberalization and reduction of role of the State in the economy. In practice, this meant reducing public sector jobs, slashing welfare services, and removing wage and price controls.


Yet, in resistance to neo-liberalism, the post-independence Zimbabwean trade unions often attempted to flex their muscles (especially in the 1990s) through repeated strikes, demonstrations and sometimes riots. In fact scholars have described industrial relations in Zimbabwe in the 1990s as “a decade of unprecedented industrial and social action.”


Since 2000 the trade union base has largely diminished, and as it stands in Zimbabwe today there are more people unemployed than those in formal work.


Ultimately, the amendment of the labour legislation indicates two things: firstly, the populist pro-socialist, pro-worker and pro-poor approaches to policy are officially dead. By amending labour laws the government is explicitly making it clear that it is taking the neo-liberal approach to the economy, which means it will have to shelve its African populist policies.


This in effect means that secondly, the indigenization laws will also be eventually amended in attempt to make them investor friendly. This is because, as it stands, the amended labour laws will make it easy for employers to hire and fire workers, and this will therefore have a direct impact on the indigenization inspired “employee share ownership schemes,” which by nature, require workers to be permanent in order for them to bear fruit.


The fact is that the country is moving away from its populist socialist history, and has now submitted to the fate of neo-liberalism.


Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director

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