Speech to Congress 2006 by Thabitha Khumalo, ZCTU
Address by the 3rd Vice President of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. 13 September 2006
The President: Congress, we now turn to a very important speaker who will be addressing you on international development and good governance. As the Vice President of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Thabitha Khumalo is one of the bravest women I know. She came to the UNISON National Conference earlier this year and gave an inspiring speech, despite the appalling situation in Zimbabwe, with raging inflation, terrible shortages and state repression of trade unions, Thabitha and her colleagues represent all that is best about our movement. With the Respect Period campaign they show that even when things are at their worst, trade unions can make people's lives better.
Thabitha has shown courage and resilience, spreading the message that trade unions fight passionately both for democracy and freedom. Thabitha, welcome to Congress.
Thabitha Khumalo (3rd Vice President, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions) said: Congress, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, I bring greetings from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, my President, Comrade Lovemore Matombo, and the General Council members. I am deeply honoured to be afforded this opportunity by yourselves to address you.
I am standing in front of you today with a heavy heart because at exactly this time the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the workers in Zimbabwe are going on a general strike. The government has advised the army to be on high alert. I am praying and hoping that none of my comrades are going to die tonight. I know that with your support, your emails and faxes to the government of Zimbabwe might stop them brutalising the workers of Zimbabwe. All they are asking for is a living wage and access to anti retro viral drugs. That is what we are asking for today. So I hope, with the information technology that you have in this country, you will help us on this general strike today.
Madam President, it is ironic that you have invited me to come and talk about international development and good governance, which does not exist in my country. I will touch on the issue of good governance. Good governance in Zimbabwe is just a pipe dream. It does not exist. To hold a Congress like this in my country you have to advise the police because we have a law called the Public Order & Security Act, which, literally, requires you to inform the police that you are holding a congress in Brighton and tell them what is going to happen. It is entirely up to them as to whether they will accept you holding it or not. Three people cannot gather together at any one time because that is deemed to be an illegal meeting, and it calls for you to be incarcerated for 48 hours, you will appear in court and then you will pay a fine or whatever the case may be.
As I am standing here today, we have a Bill that is sailing through Parliament, as I speak, which is called the Interception of Communications Bill. You will be talking about the Google, the internet, Yahoo and God knows what next. In Zimbabwe the government say that they want the Commissioner of Police, the Commissioner of the Army and the Director of Zimbabwe Immigration to intercept our emails, our cell phones, our landlines and our mail. They have the right to do that and it is now a criminal offence.
To add insult to injury, we have got what we call the Access to Information & Privacy Act, where journalists have no right to do what they are doing now. You have to be an accredited journalist to do that. I, as a Zimbabwean citizen, have no right to use my camera to take photos. I was arrested for that by the army. Last week they are moving another Bill called the Criminal Codification Ratified Bill, which makes it a criminal offence for me to stand in front of you and tell you that there is chaos in my country. It is now calling for 25 years in jail without the option of a fine. Anyway, Nelson Mandela stayed for 27 years. I want to break that record by two. I will and I am prepared to serve 54 years because, technically, I am dead so I have nothing to lose any more.
I am still talking about good governance. I had the opportunity, Madam President, to see the Prime Minister here and my heart was in my mouth because I was thinking, 'Oh, my God. The police will just walk in with tear gas and all of us would be diving for cover because we had insulted the Prime Minister', because we are not allowed to talk ill of the president of our country. It is an offence.
I am glad that the topic that I am discussing is international development. I will try and talk about women's issues. I have been in this country since last year and thank God for international solidarity. I am standing here today and proud to be associated with the workers of this country.
In 2000 women in Zimbabwe had no sanitary towels. We were forced to insert, literally, tissue papers, newspapers and pieces of cloth. I was honoured to be assaulted by Zanu thugs in Zimbabwe in July and they left me for dead. I was honoured to meet one very important man from this country, and his name is Ewan from Action for Southern Africa. When I met him with a black eye he asked me what we, as Zimbabwean women, wanted from the labour movement, and I told him that he we needed sanitary towels. All that he said to me was 'Cool'. He gave me hope. That word 'Cool' gave me hope, because I had totally lost hope because I have been campaigning for five years just for us to get sanitary towels. Then a month down the line I received an email from him saying that I was going to be coming to the UK to meet the unions. Our struggle would not have succeeded if I had also not met the union Amicus, which has done a tremendous job for us to achieve what we have achieved today. I would love to thank you, including UNISON, the TUC, you name it, the workers of this country.
Today I am able to carry a packet of tampons in my bag. (Applause) Comrades, believe me when I say as Zimbabwean women, we are now sticking them on, sticking them in and pushing them up. (Applause and cheers) I am now more courageous than ever because you have restored our dignity as women. I am so proud to be a Zimbabwean woman who is able to use hygienic means and fight the system that is denying us the right to be human, not women.
Poverty is now the order of the day. We were once the bread basket of Africa and today we are living in abject poverty. We have got what we call 'zero, zero, 1' but as of last month it is now 'zero, zero, half'; no breakfast, no lunch and half dinner. Trust me, we are doing that. You must be clear and be proud and protect what you have in this country. You will only realise how important what you have is when you do not have it. Can you imagine just failing to get sanitary towels? I am not worried about food. I am worried about a small little item which makes me a woman.
Madam President, talking about poverty, the world is talking about Africa in abject poverty. There is a need for us to eradicate poverty. Is poverty the cause of Africa's problems or are we talking about issues of bad governance? These are the symptoms of bad governance which we are experiencing in my country. Just look at good governance. Consider sustainability and human development. We were colonised by yourselves and you gave us the best education that Africa could ask for. Today our country has an unemployment rate of 80%. As a labour movement, we are trying to fight for 20% of those jobs, and half of that is the informal economy. The 10% of the workers in Zimbabwe are trying to feed 80% of us. That is why we are on the streets today. We are sitting on an inflation rate of one thousand, two hundred per cent. The average wage of a woman working in the agricultural industry is £2 a month, and a packet of sanitary towels costs £9. If you have four female children, you have to buy food, you have to send your kids to school and take them to the doctor. Getting sick in my country is now a luxury. If you get sick, just repent and tell God that you are coming. There is no time to get medicine because you cannot afford it. So being sick is a luxury.
I heard Madam President talking about the NHS. Fight for the NHS and fight really hard. We have no drugs. I am diabetic. I have half-a-meal a day, so you can imagine what is happening to me. I am not taking any medication because I cannot afford it. Comrades, if you do not fight for the NHS, only God knows what is going to happen to you.
Empowerment. How can I be empowered when I am unemployed. Look at the triangle of the labour movement and the workers at large. At the top is our work. On my right is health and in the left corner is life, but in my country at the top it is life, on my right it is health and on my left is work. How can I have life when I am not working? How can I have a healthy life when I cannot afford it? So what is important, first, is my job. Then I live a healthy life. This is in order for me to have the most brilliant life one can ever expect.
Co-operation. It is very important for us to work with you. I am absolutely proud that I have been given this opportunity to talk to you about it. We need your support, be it in kind or cash. I am sure you have heard that our informal economy was displaced by the government because we had organised it as labour. Today we are re-organising the informal economy, but what is needed is for us to educate them and for them to defend their rights to be in the informal economy in our legal front. There is need for us to train those people to defend their livelihood because that is their job and they need to be trained. International development will play a very crucial role towards us empowering the informal economy because that is the economy which is sustaining us at the moment.
Security. What securing can I talk about? I am going home on Sunday and, obviously, when I out of the plane I have already violated the Criminal Codification Ratifying Bill, which is being implemented before it is law, so I am expecting to be charged for whatever it is. Believe me, being in Zimbabwean cells is no joke. You are made to stand for 48 hours in human faeces because our cells' ablution system is not functioning and the government does not have enough money to work on that. That is nothing compared with the occupational health hazards of being a trade unionist in a country where governance does not exist and where we urgently need a democratic dispensation. The only way out is to stand up and bite the bullet so we are biting the bullet.
Madam President, civil society. We have civil society in my country and they all being silenced because the government came up with what we call an 'NGO Bill' which directs you to tell the government your source of funding, but that should not stop you from funding us. We are prepared to fight but we need ammunition and that is the funding. Do not worry, we will pay the price as long as you are there supporting us.
Looking at the economic structural adjustment programme, which was introduced into our country as a market driven reform programme, it has totally failed. The point is that growth needs to be inclusive. Social expenditure needs to be protected and targeted measures to deal with poverty should not been seen as edge on but as an integral part of the problem. That was said by a representative of the World Bank in 1999 when he agreed that the economic structural adjustment programme has failed in our country, and his name was Tom Allen. He went further to say: 'State intervention is necessary. Getting the prices right and making markets work better are important, but these need to be complemented with measures to ensure an equal balance of power of those who can operate within the market and those who cannot does not lead to injurious levels of social tension'. Today we are going through social tension. He went further to say: 'The need for national ownership is absolutely critical'. We did not own the economic structural adjustment programme. Somebody came to our country and asked us the time, and I told him it was 9 o'clock, and he turned around and said it was 0.9.00 hours. Today we are living in abject poverty because somebody told us what to do without asking us what is affecting us.
Madam President, without wasting any time, I would like to leave you with this thought. Fear can hold you prisoner but hope will set you free because it is your heart, and no one can touch it and take it away from all. All that the Zimbabwean government is doing to me is bashing my flesh but not my heart. They will never touch that.
Having said that, Madam President, on your seats you will have this paper: Stand Up Against Poverty. Even though many, many people in my country are living in abject poverty, as I speak now, when we are sad, we sing; when we are happy, we sing; when we are crying, we sing. I have noticed that here that culture does not exist, so you will bear with me because I need you to make me feel ready to come up with a slogan on poverty because it is affecting me. All that I am asking you to do is just to wave your hands and give me the courage to triumph to try and bring you on board on what I am feeling about my country, and I am proud of fighting.
'We shall overcome, we shall overcome,
We shall overcome some day,
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We shall overcome some day.'
Thank you, comrades. (A standing ovation)
I would like to give you the slogan for this (indicating Stand Up Against Poverty leaflet). I am going to say, "Workers of the world stand up against" and you say, "Poverty". I say, "When?" You say, "Now'. OK? I am going to say "Workers of the world stand up against what?" (Conference responded): "Poverty". Great. 'Workers of the world stand up against what?" (Conference responded) "Poverty". "Against what?" (Conference responded) "Poverty". 'When?' (Conference responded) 'Now'. 'When?' (Conference responded) 'Now'. I thank you.
Madam President, I forgot one thing. I become excited when I come here because there is so much support. This is my "Dignity" campaign leaflet for sanitary towels for women in Zimbabwe. We are currently supplying women on a monthly basis through ACTSA in the AMICUS union, but we need to raise more funding because I get my periods every single month! Trust me. I have told the government that there is no remote control for us to stop our periods because it is nature!
If you look at the leaflet, the string represents the year 2000 when we started and we have moved on six years and today we are pushing them up. For those who want the leaflets, please could you go to the AMICUS stand where you will find us? Please support us because we want to be dignified. I thank you, Madam President.
Issued: 13 September, 2006