PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has pampered soldiers and the police, giving them between $5 000 and $8 000 COVID-19 allowances which critics say are meant to appease them ahead of the planned July 31 protests by opposition and civic groups.
In contrast, teachers were awarded $1 200.
Mnangagwa last month awarded government workers a 50% salary hike and a nontaxable US$75 three months COVID-19 allowance to cushion them from the economic crisis that has eroded earnings and savings.
With inflation running at 786% and the prices of basic commodities rising daily, workers are demanding United States dollar salaries and rejected the government offer.
The increment, recently described by Information permanent secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana as “a gift”, reflected in civil servants’ accounts on Tuesday, showing a huge disparity between other civil servants and security forces.
While police and soldiers got $5 000 and $8 000 respectively, other civil servants including teachers questioned why government gave them only $1 200.
They now await the US$75 COVID-19 allowance promised by government. Observers immediately described the government move as a ploy to appease members of the uniformed forces ahead of the protests against the deteriorating economic situation in the country.
In separate interviews, teachers, military and police officers confirmed receiving the allowances which they immediately rubbished as a useless gesture by government.
Analyst Rashweat Mukundu said the disparities exposed the divide and rule tactic by the government which was banking on soldiers and police to crush dissent.
“It is a clear strategy of divide and rule in which government is pampering the security sector in order to use it for repression and suppressing protests by other civil servants as we saw a few days back where police were used to chase and arrest striking nurses protesting over poor salaries,” Mukundu said.
“Government is in a survival mode and not necessarily focusing on resolving issues faced by civil servants. Essentially, it is a strategy to pamper and give more money to those you will unleash on protesters.
“It is partly to prepare for end of month protests being planned and it is an unfortunate way to deal with the civil servants’ crisis of livelihood.”
Mangwana was not picking calls yesterday, but hinted on his Twitter handle that Mnangagwa might be forced to lock down Harare and Bulawayo in the face of rising local COVID-19 cases, a move seen by observers as an excuse to block the planned anti-government protests.
Zanu-PF communications director Tafadzwa Mugwadi said government would unleash the security forces to quell “the illegal protest”.
“I am pretty sure these July 31 issues will be a non-event,” Mugwadi said.
“It is illegal and it is not going to happen. I am pretty sure that our law enforcement agents, whom the nation has entrusted with the responsibility to maintain peace and order and also ensure that lockdown regulations are enforced to the full, are not going to fold their arms and watch people violating regulations willy-nilly.”
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president Takavafira Zhou said the teachers were angry over the $1 200 paid to them and were bracing for industrial action come July 28 when schools are set to open.
“We don’t begrudge the award to soldiers as in essence they remain underpaid, but we are baffled by the oppressive generosity displayed to teachers. It is clear that those with access to armoury are better respected by the so called new dispensation. Yet in reality teaching is the mother of all professions. At any rate, no weapon is greater than the masses,” Zhou said.
“Teachers are saying, they will not go to schools when they open because the money they were given is like they are already out of employment. They are combining the issue of welfare and health and safety.”
Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) chief executive officer Sifiso Ndlovu said civil servants should not be treated as a “charity case” that relies on “gifts” but should be paid a living wage.
“If you are talking about the cushioning allowances, that was said to be a Presidential gift given without the request of the educators, that money has been paid into the bank accounts,” he said.
“When you are given $1 200 and you are told it’s a gift, you don’t look at a gift in the mouth, what we are now talking about is to escalate our NJNC (National Joint Negotiating Forum) discussions to a point where government understands that the current level of salaries, with or without that gift, are unnecessary and it is not in the interest of modern work ethos to be given gifts instead of getting salaries for the work that we do.”
David Dzatsunga, spokesperson of the Apex Council, an umbrella body for all civil service labour unions, said: “The stance we have taken as Apex Council is really not to celebrate. It is gesture by government on their own volition without any consultation, so we cannot discourage it neither can we celebrate.
“Obviously any reasonable person would look at it as not really enough and worth much. Given things on the ground in terms of pricing, it is not something we would want to speak to.
“Our position is clear to government and in our wisdom, what is critical is that whatever the employer gives to an employee should be as a result of dialogue. This is their own initiative and we can’t really speak in any way on what they did.”
While government workers said the money was not enough, farm workers also joined in yesterday following an increase in their wages to $2 260.
Raymond Sixpence, leader of the Progressive Agriculture and Allied Industries Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe said the workers were not entirely happy with the increment given the hyperinflationary environment.