Friday, 23 October 2015

Letter from a Burning October in South Africa… #FeesMustFall campaign must come to Zimbabwe

On a Wednesday night , I walked into Wits University main campus in Johannesburg to show support for students who were in the midst of a  protest against fees increments. 

On the  preceding Sunday , I had travelled  all the way from some meetings with mining communities in Zvishavane and had flown in the evening to South Africa, ready for an activist organisation’s Conference and AGM on Mining Community issues and poverty. It was great that I was in Jorburg, but my greatest interest was in the realisation that a few suburbs away from our meeting and staying place, South African was beginning to burn. The students at Wits University had risen in arms against a proposed 10,5% fee increment on Wednesday 14 October, exactly a week before my visit. To the campus. They were quickly followed by fellow students from  the Universities of Pretoria, Rhodes, Stellenbosch ,Cape Town, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Western Cape, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan, Fort Hare, Tshwane University of Technology and  University of KwaZulu-Natal.

So on one of the conference days, I sneaked out at night on tis Wednesday 21 October 2015, and got in touch with fellow friend and comrade from our student activism and leadership days, Blessing Vava, and we went to the University of the Witwatersrand. The night was also on the day students in Cape Town stormed Parliament building and the greatest economy in Africa was nearly brought to a revolutionary standstill.

The author with a fellow protester in the Wits University Hall

Former student leaders, Blessing Vava (left) and Tinashe Chisaira (left) with former Wits SRC President Mcebo Dhlamini at Wits University

Former student leaders, Blessing Vava (left) and Tinashe Chisaira (left) with former Wits University (Economic Freedom Fighters) EFF chairperson, Vuyani Pambo

The level of organisation of the students was admirable. Food was being served for all from a catering team that consisted of students from various political party and student formations. The diversity of the political t-shirts was awesome. We bumped into the student leaders and ad chars with them, especially with former SRC President Mcebo Dhlamini, who got suspended some months ago for  Hitler. We also saw the current ladies who lead the union and a whole lot of other enthusiastic and purposeful students who had gathered for a protest vigil in the Senate House, .A large banner proclaimed that the Senate House itself had been taken over by the students and had been renamed Solomon Mahlangu House , in remembrance of the hero of the South African liberation struggle and member of the Umkhonto weSizwe who was hanged by the apartheid regime in 1979 at the very tender age of 23. It was obvious as we stood in the hall that the lives and aspirations and hopes of the students themselves were on the firing line, like their hero Solomon Mahlangu. 

The mainstream media had proclaimed that the protests were very violent  and when I told a few people that I was never going to fly back to Zimbabwe without giving my solidarity to the students at Wits , I was told by one that there was no way any car would take me there because the students were stoning cars. But I went there and no care were stoned. However it was apparent that South Africa was burning.

Red Octobers

The Fees Must Fall Campaign, renamed the #FeesWillFall is an idea whose time has come not just for Mzansi but also for Zimbabwe and Southern Africa. And when it comes to Zimbabwe, the campaign must never be limited to tuition fees , but to a myriad of other political and economic ills, levies, regulations, utterances rates and bribe charges. The Fees Must Fall campaigns must also be welcomed in Zambia, where on an innocent Sunday 18th October, a hapless government forced a nation into praying for the economy. 

The Octobers I know have proved to be more than hot months, in history and in the present times. Exactly ninety-eight years ago, the greatest event in the 20th century history of humanity took place in Russia in the form of the Russian revolution, the Great October Socialist revolution. The Octobers are also the months we remember the great lives of men and women of character like Smaora Machel (murdered on 19 October 1986), Thomas Sankara (murdered on 15 October 1987)and Che Guevara (murdered 9 October 1967). This is an October where years ago, Zimbabwean students embarked on a first ever mass action against the then young Zanu Pf government. The same October in 2015has seen worse onslaught and naked thuggery against vendors and the destruction of poor people’s houses. Many running battles were still being fought in the city between vendors and the police in the days I left Harare And this is still the October ,where the student protest I attended in South Africa has  become more interesting. I saw slogans quickly radicalising from #FeesMustFall to #ZumaMustFall and I realised that the burning up of the systems that had been strangling the students and the entire societies where they come from, in Mzansi and beyond, was beginning to burn up in earnest like the coal fields of Mpumalanga. 

Without giving prescriptions, I can say my experience from the University of the Witwatersrand and from following up on the news from the other South African universities, highlight that for a brighter Southern Africa and our world’s future, the world needs less youths with swag , but young men and women of character like the students who continue to stand up for what they believe . Aluta Continua.

First published on Nehanda Radio

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Justice Andrew Mutema: Personal encounters with the late national hero and judge

By Lenin Tinashe Chisaira

Justice Andrew Mutema of the High Court of Zimbabwe died on the 21st August 2015 and his remains were interred at the National Heroes’ Acre in Harare on 25 August , just a month and a half ago.
I do not usually care about who is buried at the national shrine or who is denied a place there but with Justice Andrew Mutema I make an exception, therefore I have penned this delayed obituary.
High Court Judge Justice Andrew Mutema
The late High Court Judge Justice Andrew Mutema
I was party to a case before him way back in 2012 as a student leader and I witnessed some of his judgements that changed the lives of many workers haunted by the Zimbabwe dollar era.
He was a judge par excellence, considering the era we are in where political interests and impartiality of some of influential and powerful members of our Zimbabwean bench have been regarded with suspicion in many circles.
Concerning his life and death, Justice Mutema was a senior judge of the High Court of Zimbabwe until the fateful day he collapsed at his home and later died at the Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo.
He was born on 27 February 1959 and attended Silveira Mission in Bikita, Masvingo Province. In his teenage years , he became a freedom fighter and joined the Zimbabwean liberation struggle. His nom-de-guerre (struggle name) was Kingsley Dube Watema.
He received military training in Mozambique and then, during the last years of the struggle he was deployed to Romania for further military training. After independence, he decided to pursue a career in the judiciary.
He began as Assistant Magistrate in 1986 and moved up the ranks , becoming Senior President of the Administrative Court in 2004 and of the Labour Court in 2007. He was appointed Judge of the High Court at Harare 2010 and in 2013 became Senior Judge in charge of the High Court at Bulawayo.
It was during his time at the High Court in Harare, that he decided on a matter which had a direct effect on my personal and academic development. But above all, the story of the judge’s life shows that within the systems that oppress and exploit the majority of us, there are good men and women, and because of these heroes we must celebrate their ideals.
My encounters with the justice
A number of encounters made me come across the man himself as well as the work of Justice Mutema. The most eventful encounter was a make-or-break occasion for my academic and personal life.
Kokerai Murombo, Tinashe Chisaira, James Katso and Gilbert Mtubuki  during the days we awaited the court decision.     
I had just been elected SRC Vice-President at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and on the eve of the inauguration, my main campaign colleagues and myself were suddenly served with indefinite suspension letters by the university over a campaign photograph that was supposedly used by our campaign team from the Zimbabwe National Students Union in a campaign newsletter.
The photograph featured the Vice Chancellor Prof. Levi Nyagura. My fellow student activists who suffered the same misfortune were James Katso who later contested in the Makokoba constituency elections in 2013 under a FreeZim Congress ticket; Zechariah Mushawatu, who contested in the Harare East by-elections in June 2015 as an independent candidate; Kokerai Murombo, who was later haunted from UZ and is now pursuing his studies at the Wits University; then there was Gilbert Mutubuki, who is now the president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU).
After we were issued with the letters we engaged lawyer Mr Obey Shava of Mbidzo, Muchadehama and Makoni Legal Practitioners and a member of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. The UZ Disciplinary Hearing ended up with a deadlock and so we filed an urgent chamber application with the High Court seeking to go back to school.
On a Thursday, the 10th of May 2012 we appeared in the chambers of Justice Mutema at the High Court of Zimbabwe. The university’s lawyer was there. Our key arguments were that we had no case to answer and needed to get back to school to prepare for end of semester examinations.
The university’s lawyer, a lady whose name I have forgotten, tried to convince the judge that our papers were incorrect as we had claimed the wrong starting dates for examinations.
The judge laughingly dismissed her, saying, “Come on, we have all been to university. It doesn’t matter whether the exams are three weeks or a month away. Students need to prepare for examinations.”

After that he, made an order lifting the suspension operating against us pending the finalisation of the disciplinary proceedings. He further ordered the University of Zimbabwe to pay costs for the entire court application and that we be allowed access to lectures, tutorials, library facilities as well as sitting for tests and examinations.
After issuing the order, the judge chuckled and faced us. He said ,” You are young leaders, go to school and learn… But I am still wondering how a whole Vice Chancellor would agree to pose for a photo with you, ZINASU guys.”
That made us laugh and indeed our last sight of Justice Andrew Mutema on that late afternoon in 10 May 2012 was that of a progressive, reasonable and humorous judge.
The other encounters when I think of his great work, starts with the time when I was Editor-in-Chief of the Kempton Makamure Labour Lecture Series Board at the Faculty of Law, University of Zimbabwe (UZ).
I had to extensively review his Labour Curt judgements for publication in the KMLLS Journal that was published in 2011 under the theme “Legal and Constitutional Reforms on Indigenisation, Economic Empowerment and Workers’ Rights” (ISSN 2223-5337).
The judgements however presented a man who was sometimes progressive and sometimes not. In those days as well, the organisation I was working with, called the Zimbabwe labour Centre, was handling a case in which some former Flexi-Mail workers were claiming compensation in United States dollars following the dollarisation era.
Precedent stated that people owed in Zimbabwean dollars had no basis for being paid in US dollars because the Zimbabwe dollar was still legal tender. On the ground, the local currency had become valueless and was no longer acceptable anywhere in the country.
After a long struggle, it was Justice Mutema who ruled that it was unjust to pay workers in Zimbabwean dollars in the US dollar era.
Fear for the higher courts
Fear over the setup and attitudes of the Zimbabwean bench is justified, especially after the loss of people like justice Mutema is justified. On 17 July 2015, exactly a month before Justice Mutema’s death, the courts came up with the Zuva Petroleum decision, which in a few hours had altered the labour relations landscape in the country for the worst.
I criticised the implications of the decision, just a day or two later in an article that I wrote for Nehanda Radio. The infamous decision condemned the working masses of Zimbabwe to the punishment of a three month unilateral notice, and threw the issues of collective bargaining and retrenchment benefits to the dogs.
The case made tens of thousands of Zimbabwean workers redundant literally overnight. So in these circumstances it makes us mourn judges like Justice Andrew Mutema more. And recognise that it was indeed fit and proper for him to be interred at the National Heroes’ Acre.
Conclusion – Perceptions of a hero
The heroes of Zimbabwe are a contentious lot, at least most of them. People have not been amused with how national heroes are selected by the Politburo of the ruling party and not by any criteria set up in the state legislation for example.
As responsible citizens it is helpful to keep that disgruntlement at the back of our minds, but also not to taint all those interred at our most famous burial site with the same brush.
Some of them are true heroes, who served their communities and their people with a progressive spirit. If there is a book for such people, we will surely add Justice Mutema’s name to the list without hesitation.
We are testimony to his heroic deeds and progressive judicial mind and I end up with quoting the words of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar : “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”.
Tinashe Chisaira is a lawyer and activist and works for an environmental justice organisation in Harare. He is a former student leader at the University of Zimbabwe and is a Founder Trustee of ProJusticeZim, , He tweets at @cdetinashe.

Supreme Court anti-labour ruling: Rude awakening for activists and trade unions

By Lenin Tinashe Chisaira - Published in July 2015
Comrades Pride Mkono, Tinashe Chisaira and Munyaradzi Gwisai at a workers demonsrtarion against the 17 July judgement.
The ruling by the full bench of the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe on Friday (17 July 2015) in Don Nyamande and Another v Zuva Petroleum (Pvt) Ltd has signalled the temporary sorry climax to a spate of direct attacks on the country’s poor as well as on workplace democracy and any other slight gains of working class struggles in Zimbabwe.

The ruling comes in a long week scarred by naked butchery of vendor rights, arrests of the leadership of the National Vendor’s Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) as well as the perpetual confusing statements on the kidnapping of Occupy Africa Unity Square activist Itai Dzamara. The ruling provides a serious yet interesting challenge on all genuine activists, trade unions and economic justice groups in the country.

A Forgotten History on Labour Rights

There comes a time in each struggle where a certain side wins, or falls into a historic defeat. As a human rights/economic justice activist and a law graduate, I am one of the people who were proud of the progressive nature of Zimbabwean labour laws.
The Labour Act [Chapter 28:01] was a pride of the working class movements since the days it was spearheaded by then leftist parliamentarians like Munyaradzi Gwisai. Now the Supreme Court’s ruling has set to reverse the hard work of illustrious past legislatures through the mere strokes of a few pens writing on a wooden court bench carved by the former settler-capitalist economy and currently polished by our black neo-liberal regime.
To analysts and pro-worker lawyers, the ruling was not surprising. It has always been an unspoken rule among activist corridors that when it comes to labour rights and the courts, the higher one goes, the more likely workers will get sacrificed.
Maybe it is because business and political interests have more to lose from judiciary decisions at the top of the judiciary food chain than at the base. We hope it’s not a situation of “In Marikana they use bullets; here they use the Supreme Court”.
The ruling almost makes a direct mockery of the socio-economic justice aspirations of our constitution. The constitution has made some commendable provisions on the right to an just footing between workers and employers when it comes to working conditions and collective bargaining over wages, retrenchments and other conditions.
Section 65 (4) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) Act, 2013 provides that “Every employee is entitled to just, equitable and satisfactory conditions of work” and at sub-section (5) (a), “…every employee, employer, trade union, and employers’ organisation has the right to engage in collective bargaining”. However, even though the Constitution is self-explanatory, the battle-lines have been drawn. The labour regime is set to become more fascist and neo-liberal if the body of activists in the country fail to rise up to the occasion.
Re-Thinking Struggle Alliances and Strategies
Human rights and democracy activists, socio-economic justice groups and trade unions need to engage in a serious introspection of the work and services they currently provide, as compared to the real needs, troubles and aspirations of the peoples and memberships they claim to represent.
It is unfortunate that the lawyer who helped deliver the fatal blow on labour justice was none other than “Advocate” Nelson Chamisa. The man seems to forget that he is a beneficiary of a political party that rose from the grievances and tears of the labour movement, in the name of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).
I am sure the comrades at ZCTU, the Concerned Affiliates and Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) and any other serious-minded union are enraged at the betrayal.
Some, who say the man was only doing his job, need to be reproached for the absurdity of such ill-reasoning. A similar excuse was surely the shield for black soldiers who fought on the sides of the Rhodesian Army and Intelligence and claimed to be “only doing their jobs”.
There is no legitimate excuse in defending a person, lawyer or not, who burns the midnight candle, perusing over counter-progressive precedents with the sole intention of defeating “the working class”, which is the very root of any democratic society.
Like one of my friends, a young leader and worker Lloyd said to me just yesterday, “The people we look up to and whom we have come to admire as leaders, have actually sent shock waves across the country, but for the wrong reasons”
It’s Time!
The ruling and the accompanying attacks on vendors and other activists call for more than introspection. Activists need to re-think their strategies and alliances. The Zuva Petroleum (Pvt) Ltd ruling should not be allowed to be a neo-liberal tombstone that blocks the way of democrats, workers and human rights activists in their resolute march towards true economic and social justice. Rather this is the right time for re-strategising, re-thinking and re-building the pillars of the movement for human rights and socio-economic justice.
The time calls on genuine human rights, socio-economic justice activists, labour lawyers and civil society to pick a side because the battle drums are sounding.
In the words of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality”. The Fight is on. It’s time to pick the pro-poor and working class side! Solidarity Forever!
Tinashe Chisaira is the founder of the Progressive Centre for Human Rights and Economic Justice in Zimbabwe,, and tweets at @cdetinashe.

NCA Departure and Compass into the Dustbin of History? A Response to Zhangazha

By Tinashe Chisaira ( @cdetinashe)- Published in 2013.

Tinashe Chisaira (in orange NCA vote NO t-shirt during the 2013 referendum.In a debate with Vote YES youths
Firstly this is a response to Cde Takura Zhangazha’s facebook and blog post, ‘The National Constitutional Assembly’s False Departure and Lost Compass’ that was published on Saturday on the day of the 25 January 2014 council by-elections in Zaka’s Ward 32, Harare’s Ward 12 and Karoi’s Ward 10; and the maiden electoral appearance of the NCA Party.
The leadership of NCA just before the movemnt was transformed into a political party by the membership

Secondly, I respect every individual’s freedom of conscience, expression and association.
But fundamentally as one of the numerous cadres who have joined the NCA Party and who believes in its mission as the current sole electoral voice of social and economic justice in Zimbabwe, it becomes a constitutional right and obligation to respond to Zhangazha’s article.
Takura Zhangazha, who read out the statement that transformed the NCA into a political party at the NCA extraordinary congress in 2013, and the former Director of Information Cde Blessing Vava have publicly announced their resignation from the party.
It is to be expected that people don’t always give the complete picture surrounding their decisions. Any way it’s expected that party membership would have the right of responding publicly, in the spirit of democracy and honest debate.
Suspect Timing or ‘Ayesaba Amagwala’
Zhangazha’s decision to leave the NCA did not come about as a result of an internal or formal disagreement. He chose to engage in an informal debate with comrades who rightly felt that the party should contest in elections, and he went into hibernation after that, choosing only to write a quick letter to the public announcing the resignation on the eve of the elections.
The timing would be highly suspect to announce a resignation in the midst of an election. One would be forgiven for concluding that the comrades felt that the election as lost, so they felt smear than to be tainted by defeat. Hence the quick way out.
That would be a blatant sign of cowardice, where Cde Julius Malema would break into the song ‘Ayesaba Amagwala’. Furthermore that timing lacked mature strategy and was filled with spite. How could people choose to go public about an internal disagreement when people are going to the polls?
A movement from below or an elitist party
In an elitist movement, people fears for positions and individual mobility tend to hold more sway that the wishes of the people. There are people who get impatient with the Congress being pushed to a later time.
Their sole reason being that their positions become less secure as the movement takes shape from the grassroots. The people of Mbare got together and decided on an electoral symbol for the by-elections, choosing a symbol that spoke of the need for food unlike open palms and national monuments.
That such crucial decisions are coming from the grassroots in itself becomes threatening to self imposed ‘leaders’ at the top, who have no link with the masses except through facebooking and blogging.
Furthermore a grassroots linked cadre, would know that the true path to win an argument in a peoples’ party would be by going to the people on the ground and convincing them by honest argumentation.
In the NCA at least there was that opportunity which the comrades failed to utilise. At least in some organisations or parties dishonest leadership would try to fast track debate and hoodwink unsuspecting comrades.

So yes, comrades the NCA will not ‘create cult symbols’ and will remain an organisation that ‘has history thrust upon it’ and indeed ‘no one is indispensable’. The march is long and will continue with those comrades who are prepared to face reality, that the path to building a peoples’ party committed to social justice is never easy.
The later we hold the congress the better and the more we face this situation, setbacks and debates the nearer we reach the goal of a qualitative people’s party.

Whose Departure? Whose Compass?

The departure from inactivity and lobbying politicians to challenging them, at least the short term causes of it are rooted in the Vote No Campaign of last year. The campaign that was undertaken by committed cadres from the trade union, students union movements, left organisations and social movements and some parties like the MDC99.
The campaign was bringing together young activists like myself and fellow students at the time and experienced activists, some of whom have seen the launch of both the NCA, MDC etc.
The way we saw it was that the decision to form a party in a supposedly two-party society was going to be a brave and ideological one. That it was to be a brave one, was seen by some comrades who knew that the MDC/Zanu PF narrative was no longer beneficial to the country’s electoral politics, but because of cowardice decided to be ‘do-nothings’, critics who are afraid of going and facing the people themselves.
Some of our cadres in the Vote No campaign retreated to their shells due to cowardice and betrayed the cause, leaving the burden upon the NCA. The departure of the NCA was hence by all material facts a brave one. However some fell along the way, and better that they fell away at the beginning of the journey when we haven’t entrusted our backs to them.
These comrades and others have lost their compasses, for even if there are to join other parties or likely coalitions in the long run, they will always depart and run away at the first whiff of the meet-the-people gunpowder.
Some have runaway from leaving politics of the offices because they are afraid of talking and listening to the organic intellectualism of the people. The people who have legitimate cause to be informed that the 2013 Constitution process was a historic deception.
The people who have to know that the deceptive politicians no longer had the moral right nor authority to be lobbied, but to be met head-on at the polling station and in parliament and council rooms.
And at the same to be met on the streets, in campuses, villages and towns like what the people of Chitungwiza have done in the past week that Zhangazha and his comrades have chickened out of a party that was departing from elitism to community organising.
Not to be spared are trade union and students union leaders who urge their supposed followers to follow the outdated concept of economism that stated that ‘workers and students’ have no place in politics, that they must concentrate on bread and butter issues and leave politics to the politicians.
Comrades it’s highly dishonest to go public due to actions that have resulted from cowardice. And being scared of the ordinary people would make an elitist person who dreams of travelling first class run out of the mbombela class of the freedom train and claim that others have lost the compass.
We may never have been travelling in the same direction in the first place; neither would the people spare first class seats for self-styled leaders.
Since it is fashionable to quote late revolutionaries, here is one phrase that was made famous by Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. On 25 October 1917, there was a meeting of the Congress of Soviets when news came that the Bolsheviks were seizing power.
Other perfectionists, cowards, do-nothings and Mensheviks decided not to participate in the Congress and to walk out of the room where the Congress was being held. As these people were leaving, refusing participation, holding on to the past and to their faulty compasses, Trotsky taunted them, by proclaiming –truthfully as it turned out-that they were on their way into the dustbin of history! Adieu!