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Reviewed by:
  • Building from The Rubble: the labour movement in Zimbabwe since 2000 ed. by Lloyd Sachikonye, Brian Raftopoulos, Godfrey Kanyenze
  • Bill Freund (bio)
Lloyd Sachikonye, Brian Raftopoulos and Godfrey Kanyenze (eds) (2018) Building from The Rubble: the labour movement in Zimbabwe since 2000. Harare: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Weaver Press

The authors of this study describe it as third in a series on Zimbabwe’s labour history. The first covered the Rhodesian era, Keep on Knocking, a story ably summarised here by Raftopoulos. Whereas in South Africa, the dominant liberation movement, the ANC, established an alliance if not without differences, that still holds with COSATU, the dominant union federation, in Zimbabwe ZANU and later ZANU-PF, generally experienced a relationship with the unions marked by suspicion and mutual hostility. In Southern Rhodesia, black trade unionism was legal and the unions had international ties. The former white union movement began to integrate. This is a major reason why the cities and the economically vital white-owned farming country around remained relatively peaceful during the Bush War to the anger of ZANU. The unions, if anything, supported ZANU’s less successful but important rival ZAPU. In consequence, a big strike wave and demonstration of militancy marked not the Smith years but the first Mugabe years and these were harshly repressed.

Mugabe then tailor-made, as so typically in post-colonial situations in Africa and elsewhere, a state-generated patrimonial union movement which would hopefully regulate labour relations, broker labour peace but could continue to exhibit some militancy aimed theoretically at white-owned businesses. This was the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. In the final chapter of Building from the Rubble, Zakeyo Mtimtema reviews [End Page 129] the somewhat bewildering and inconsistent labour legislation and labour law judgments over the years.

However the détente with the state did not last. As economic conditions deteriorated after 1990, Zimbabwe was no longer a ‘Frontline state’ to be dealt with on tenterhooks by the West while the state pursued a pseudo-austere economic policy but was unable to forego its position as worker patron. Under these circumstances, the ZCTU became more independent, more antagonistic to the ruling party. By the end of the millennium, the ZCTU had become the heart of an opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change and its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, transformed into the MDC leader. This story, which forms the heart of Striking Back, the second volume of the trilogy, is summarised here in a chapter by Lloyd Sachikonye, doyen of writing on Zimbabwean labour and still based at the University of Zimbabwe.

The result was a threefold disaster, to which this current third volume provides a good introduction. The first of these was the MDC link. The ZCTU put its eggs into the MDC basket and counted on becoming the vanguard of a big electoral victory. This was not to happen. Mugabe by fair means and foul held on to power as did ZANU-PF, a situation for which the union federation was completely unprepared. Union leaders experienced arrests and torture at times.

A second disaster in a sense was that the MDC coalition of forces was orientated not to labour’s needs but to a neo-liberal reform that Mugabe had always resisted. When for a period the MDC did enter a coalition government (2009–14), it accomplished little and that little was largely in a direction aimed at righting the economy in a market direction.

The third disaster dominates this collection. Between the failure to adopt neo-liberal reforms and the land invasions that destroyed the big capitalist farms and drove out most of the remaining white minority with their business skills and orientation, the more advanced sectors of the Zimbabwean economy in large part collapsed. The impressive record of this process by Godfrey Kanyenze, who leads the Labour and Educational Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ) is probably the most valuable part of the book. In this period, new investment in the economy virtually stopped.

The story can be encapsulated by two figures: from Appendix 1, we learn that ZCTU union membership (and the movement was further crippled by splits in part generated by the state) fell from...


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pp. 129-132
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