Following the dismissal of Angeline Chitambo as president of the Zimbabwe Energy Workers Union (ZEWU) over allegations of usurping powers of the National Executive, fraud and running the union as her private business, Mike Steamer Ndlovu (MSN) was appointed acting president by the National Council on the 15th of April 2018 in Kariba. Ndlovu speaks to The Connector (TC) about this and his vision for the organisation which he joined at its inception in 1987 and is undoubtedly the biggest affiliate of workers in Zimbabwe’s energy sector.
TC: Can you briefly outline the circumstances which led to Chitambo’s dismissal from the union.
MSN: We cannot discuss much about Chitambo’s issue because to us it is now water under the bridge but for the benefit of our members and all our stakeholders, Chitambo was dismissed after the union realised that her actions threatened the existence of the organisation. She had sown seeds of dividing workers and leadership across the board. The organisation had to make a swift intervention to save itself from collapse. The union followed all due process by inviting her to a hearing before an independent disciplinary committee but she decided not to attend. The committee therefore recommended for her dismissal from the union which decision was upheld by the National Council on the 15 of April 2018 in Kariba. In short these were the circumstances.
TC: The National Council appointed you as the president of the union in an acting capacity. How did you receive such a decision?
MSN: To be honest, I felt greatly humbled by the leadership of the union who saw it fit to appoint me to this position. It is an honour really and this position comes with responsibilities of ensuring that you carry the union high on your shoulders. You have to realise that it is not about taking a position but you have to demonstrate servant leadership. I really appreciate the union for entrusting me with this responsibility. Thank you comrades.
TC: In your new position what is your vision for the organisation?
MSN: My immediate task together with other members of the leadership is to ensure that we bring back ZEWU to its original status. There are ways we used to do things at ZEWU at the beginning. Everything was done transparently until Chitambo and a few bad apples decided to do things their own way. We need to restore ZEWU to be a union which respect the individual members as owners of the organisation. Members should feel secure and continue to benefit from union programmes. We must also look at sustainability of the union, embracing technology in our programming and deliberately embarking on activities aimed at modernising our union to move with the changing times. We are also working to ensure that there is swift information dissemination to membership. One important thing which we also need to look at is the promotion of unity across all the structures of the union because if you are not united you always get a bad result.
TC: What were some of the challenges facing the union when you took over?
MSN: We have talked about divisions within the rank and file of the union caused by a few individuals. Then we have few incidences of maladministration and failure to adhere to the provisions of the union constitution and this was mainly attributed to the former president. She was interfering with the administrative issues of the organisation and this was a cause for concern. One other critical issue was the intransigence by employers to award workers a living wage. The union has been fighting with employers for salary reviews and some of the wage disputes are before the courts. The issue of low wages has been exacerbated by the general macro-economic condition prevailing in the country which has seen pricing of basic commodities skyrocketing to alarming levels. So we fighting for a ‘win-win’ situation not a ‘winner takes all’ scenario as we engage employers on this critical issue.
We also have the issue of health and safety issues at workplaces. The union has noted that employers are failing to uphold safety standards at the workplace and this is leading to unnecessary injuries and in worse cases, loss of life. The union is working on a programme to train health and safety cadres and we hope this will go a long way in resolving this problem at our workplaces.
TC: You have talked about sustainability of the union. How do you aim to achieve this?
MSN: We have brain stormed about projects we need to embark on because we have realised that the union cannot continue to rely on subscriptions. Sometimes employers deliberately withhold subscriptions in order to cripple the smooth operations of the union and we had to find a way around this. We have identified a number of projects such as venturing into hardware, driving schools and retail business. We registered a holding company to undertake these projects and we are happy that the membership has resoundingly endorsed this initiative.
TC: How is the union faring in networking with other unions?
MSN: As you are aware trade unions do not operate in a vacuum and in isolation. The union is a member of three global federations namely; IndustriALL, Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) and World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU).
I am happy to mention that our General Secretary, Cde Martin Chikuni is the secretary of the eight IndustriALL affiliates in Zimbabwe. We also work closely with other unions in the region and share experience and ideas on how we could protect, safeguard and advance the interests of workers. Our networks are also spread as far as Europe where some members and leadership are invited to attend conferences which help build their capacity to articulate issues and learn new ideas through the exchange of information.
TC: What do you want to urge members given the developments taking place in the union?
MSN: Like I said before, membership should remain united and give the current leadership their full support. We want to create a new ZEWU where everyone has a role to play; an organisation that will create opportunities for those willing to learn. Members should benefit from training programmes and enhance their leadership skills. We want the young workers and women to learn and build their confidence and be able to steer the union when we are gone. Leaders come and go but the union will forever be there.