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This act of the South African parliament repealed the laws prohibiting marriage and sexual intercourse between white people and people of other races, and as a result it served as a legal indicator to social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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The Politics of Business in Zimbabwe

“A developmental state is characterized by a government with sufficient organization and authority to drive forward its economic goals. It is a state, which provides forward-looking guidelines to society through detailed, long-term development objectives and policies. Through its main machinery, the bureaucracy, it aims to effectively and efficiently create a suitable climate for economic growth.

“Moreover, such states take account of and make well-deliberated attempts to mitigate the impact of conflicting and competing socio-economic interests. A true developmental state thus exists when the state has the vision, leadership, and capacity to bring about positive economic changes that benefit all groups of society within a specified time frame.”

Now, according to John Knight, a researcher at the Oxford University Centre for the Study of African Economies, between 1952 and 1978 the Chinese economy suffered from a relatively slow growth rate coupled with low household incomes per capita.

He states that between 1952 and 1978 the Chinese people “suffered from the traumas of the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution” and that “China had neither the firmity of purpose nor the policies to be a developmental state under central planning. Politics and not economics was in command.”

Post 1978 Chinese Economic Policy

However, as of the mid 1970s the Chinese state shifted its prioritized objectives from political to economic goals for three fundamental reasons:

●Firstly, improved living standards of the populous would avert political upheaval and cement support for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)

●Secondly, China felt the pressure of competition from increasingly prosperous Western and some East Asian countries

●Finally, the Chinese Cultural Revolution had distorted the structure of the CCP and had essentially diminished the party’s capacity for central planning primarily because factional conflict had taken its toll on the party.


In Light of these factors, the CCP shifted its focus to economic reform. Put plainly, the Chinese state realised that politics had to decrease, in order for business and social development to increase.However, before the party outlined its economic strategy, it initially reformed the state and the party by modernizing the leadership system, insisting on professionalism and offering incentives for the achievement of state objectives.

John Knight observes, “Thus the party and (the) state bureaucrats including managers of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) were molded to meet CCP objectives, to which the achievement of rapid economic growth was central. China became a Developmental State.”

Zimbabwe and Zim-Asset

Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset) is the policy program through which the Zimbabwean government intends to transform the economy by 2018 by focusing on (among other things) infrastructure development, food security, poverty eradication and job creation. The policy has incited mixed responses from political and economic analysts, but , if fully implemented, the policy document has the potential to transform Zimbabwe into a developmental state.

To date, analysts have failed to observe that similar to China’s party and state reforms in 1978, which curtailed factionalism in the CCP and consequently enhanced the CCP and the Chinese state’s capacity for central planning and policy implementation, ZANU-PF has undergone a major restructuring program, which was concluded at the December 2014 elective congress. The primary objective of this exercise was to curtail factionalism and to enhance the party and government’s ability for central planning and policy implementation.

Now that the country is in the post-Congress period, it is appropriate that ZANU-PF focuses on successfully implementing Zim-Asset and its developmental goals, which fundamentally rely upon Foreign Investment. However, what can the country learn from China as an investment destination?

Chinese Investment Environment

Firstly, as to precursor to China’s post 1978 economic boom, the (CCP) Central Committee decided to “substantially increase the role of market mechanisms in the system… reducing (but not eliminating) government planning and direct control.

“The first reforms consisted of opening trade with the outside world, instituting the household responsibility system in agriculture, by which farmers could sell their surplus crops on the open market, and the establishment of Town Village Enterprises (TVE).”

In Zimbabwean terms, reports that the country’s finance ministry is considering “tweaking” the indigenization laws in order to make them investor friendly are welcome. Perhaps government should play a latent role in business, but should avoid direct control.

Finally, China has been an attractive investment destination because of the cost of labour. In the 1980s several Multinational Corporations relocated to China, especially because the labour costs were low and the labour policies were business friendly. In this light Zimbabwe should observe that high labour costs and labour law frigidity diminish the country’s potential as an investment destination and ultimately the fulfillment of Zim-Asset.

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Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director