A few days before the violent and ruinous protests of January 14 to 16 this year in the main cities of Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Peter Mutasa and the leader of a shadowy protest group #ThisFlag, Evan Mawarire, became the faces of the demonstrations' organisers.
This is because they recorded and distributed a video message in which they encouraged Zimbabweans to participate in protests which were couched as a stay away.
This left many people wondering whether the labour body had also become one of the local opposition parties or a political activist group which dabble in politics full time.
Curiously, Mutasa's stunt came at a time when senior MDC members strategically kept silent in the run up to the demonstrations following indications by the Commission of Inquiry into the August 1, 2018 incident that some of their utterances encouraged the destructive protest by mostly MDC youths on the day in question.
Championing the destruction of business
Over the past few years, the ZCTU has been plagued by the dwindling number of paid-up unions owing to the ongoing economic challenges which have seen many companies, downsizing, right sizing or closing down altogether, throwing thousands of union membership subscription-paying people onto the streets.
In view of this sad scenario, any progressive Zimbabwean would do everything possible to support and save the businesses which are still open, but not so with the ZCTU, which misled the nation that it was calling for a peaceful stay away when it was planning destruction of employers such as Choppies Supermarkets which suffered destruction of their shops and looting of stock worth hundreds of millions.
One wonders what kind of a labour body the ZCTU is, which instead of joining hands with Government in its ongoing efforts to turn the economy around and create more jobs and labour unions, fights industry and commerce that are still availing jobs.
The extent of the damage which was wrought on the economy, businesses and individual in the three dreadful days should see the labour body self-introspecting and resolving to turn over a new leaf going forward if it still has a conscience. No labour body worth its salt would associate itself with the kind of lawlessness which the whole world witnessed during the three hellish days.
No sane organisation would gladly associate with people who violently seized control of Government infrastructure and establishments such as toll plazas and police stations in the name of protesting.
Surprisingly, the ZCTU never offered an apology to the businesses affected, Government, the individuals who were forced to pay for passage at the illegal "toll gates" and to the people of Zimbabwe at large for openly inciting excitable youths who terrorised innocent citizens.
Anyone who fights against businesses which are providing jobs and contributing to Treasury through various taxes and shamelessly claims to stand for workers is a shame to society.
This is what the ZCTU has become. It is now a labour body in name only as it has abandoned the workers who are the very reason for its existence.
The labour organisation may argue that the retrenchments and layoffs which workers are experiencing are beyond it, but in some cases, it is consciously turning its face aside while employees are being treated unfairly.
The case in point is that of the workforce of its bosom ally, the MDC, which the media reported last week to have gone for 11 months without pay.
The issue of the MDC riding roughshod over its workforce has its roots during that party's former leader, the late Morgan Tsvangirai's tenure.
The ZCTU and the MDC leaderships should be hanging their heads in shame given that the former played midwife during the birth of the latter, which touts itself as a labour party. They should be ashamed of their selfish double standards.
In March 2017, the party sacrificed its party workers' welfare to save Tsvangirai's Strathaven house from sale over $50 000 granted by the now-defunct Afrasia Kingdom Bank at a time that the workforce had gone unpaid for 17 months.
The party sold some of its vehicles to mobilise funds to save the house.
In April 2018, the party's property was attached in a labour dispute with a former worker Sally Dura, who was owed 27 months unpaid salaries to the tune of $108 000. Five months later another former employee Lawrence Paganga won a $42 000 arbitral award over unpaid terminal benefits.
These are only a few of the many known such cases and the ZCTU never lifted a finger to admonish its ally over such crude labour practices.
One cringes at the thought that despite being a founding member of the so-called the workers' party, the MDC leader Nelson Chamisa was part of the defence counsel in the July 31, 2015 case pitting fired Zuva Petroleum workers in which a ruling was made to the effect that employers could fire their workers for as long as they gave them a three-month notice.
This opened floodgates for such employers who fired up to 20 000 workers based on the ruling.
Chamisa and the ZCTU's nonchalant attitude to the plight of the MDC workers and thousands of other unknown ones out there, therefore, does not come as a surprise to those who know the history of the two.
Morphing into a political labour body
Realising that nothing much is coming from its fast diminishing affiliate labour unions, the ZCTU has not only abandoned workers, but is slowly changing into a political player.
It has gone beyond the tradition of inviting the MDC to its May Day celebrations and has begun to openly sink its teeth into opposition politics.
After the MDC senior members got their fingers burnt over the August 1, 2018 incident, the party roped in the ZCTU leadership to be one of the faces of the organisers of the January riots while the opposition party did the real underground organisation as evidenced by the video clip featuring that party's Chitungwiza North legislator Godfrey Sithole marshalling members to loot goods from shops which later circulated on the social media.
Already some ZCTU member unions have registered their disquiet over its decision to join the MDC.
This followed the MDC national standing committee's resolution to allocate a quota of its posts during the forthcoming electoral congress to the labour body.
As the MDC prepared for the congress through provincial congresses, ZCTU was handpicked to oversee the process which was characterised by intimidation, manipulation and violence.
When the results were contested, the ZCTU through its secretary-general Japhet Moyo denied the labour body's involvement. What surprises many is the ZCTU's closeness to a single opposition party in a country which is teeming with dozens others.
The relationship between the two goes beyond the ZCTU's facilitation of the formation of the MDC in 1999.
Over the years, it has served as a conduit for Western funding to circumvent the Political Parties (Finances) Act, which prohibits the funding of local parties from foreign sources. When the MDC formed the National Electoral Reforms Agenda (NERA) in 2015, which culminated in the MDC-Alliance in 2018, the ZCTU provided meeting venues and played the middleman in sourcing funding for the initiative from some Western countries.
The ZCTU is cash-strapped and is hoping against the odds that should the MDC land power through a power-sharing agreement, which the latter has been pursuing, its leaders would benefit.
This explains why they are cutting political deals behind the back and in spite of workers' protestations.
Time to choose
Moyo, Mutasa or any other ZCTU official is free to join a party of their choice, but they should remember that a labour body should be like a church.
It accommodates members of various parties without conflict. The ZCTU is made up of unions whose members support different political parties and taking it into the MDC is, therefore, very wrong. The MDC and ZCTU executives are attempting to subtly merge the two for their own personal gain in view of the ongoing economic challenges.
The ZCTU leadership should know that the labour organisation is not personal property.
They have to make the decision to either remain in the labour sector or be opposition politicians.
The fact that most of its members may support the MDC does not mean that the ZCTU is an MDC subsidiary.
They should respect workers by making a choice between politics and labour.