Temperatures are once again rising among restive civil servants, amid indications that they could embark on another nationwide strike as early as next week if the stone broke government does not pay them their July salaries soon.
While civil service union leaders who spoke to the Daily News yesterday were careful not to come across as spoiling for a fight with the State — ahead of the government’s expected announcement tomorrow of concrete pay dates for this month — they hinted that all hell could break loose if they were not paid on Monday.
This comes after Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister Prisca Mupfumira (pictured) announced on Tuesday that the government was hoping to provide its workers with specific July pay dates by the end of day tomorrow.
“We are still waiting for dates and the official dates will determine whatever we are going to do next,” the chairperson of the Apex Council, the umbrella body representing all civil servants, Cecilia Alexander, said.
But Zimbabwe Nurses Association secretary general, Enock Dongo, went a little further saying government workers wanted their July salaries on time.
“Maybe they will pay us on Monday … so we are going for the meeting (tomorrow) first before we decide what to do after that. But for now what they should know is that we want our salaries for July in July and not later,” he warned.
However, there are serious doubts that President Robert Mugabe’s cash-strapped government will manage to pay all the civil servants their July salaries on time given its continuing reticence to announce concrete pay dates.
This has prompted former Finance minister Tendai Biti to say that the government has reached a fiscal dead end, and that it would be “a miracle” if it managed to raise enough money to pay all civil servants in full this month.
“When I was minister, we were paying close to $300 million every month to civil servants and then we had a functioning economy. I must say that this is the first time that this is happening since 1890 that the government is failing to pay workers.
“At the time that I was minister, there were about 336 000 workers, but now they (Zanu PF government) have more than 500 000 because they employed people ahead of the elections in 2013.
“We have a government that is terrible and this is causing dissatisfaction, and it’s creating anger all over. What Zanu PF has done is destabilise the State and Zanu PF is now our best lawyer to argue that this government has failed,” Biti told the Daily News.
In the meantime, Mugabe and under pressure Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa continue to blame targeted sanctions for the salary delays, much against both available evidence and public sentiment.
Military personnel who were hoping to be paid early this month were left bitterly disappointed last Thursday and Friday when they checked with their banks for their money — and to make matters worse, they have not been told when they will receive their remuneration for this month.
Worried analysts and opposition political parties say the government’s continued failure to pay its workers on time, particularly soldiers, could spark serious disturbances, including violent riots.
“Government’s failure to pay soldiers is a recipe for disaster. The military is the regime’s last line of defence and if they can’t meet their wages, it would be a serious failure which threatens national security.
“It’s a serious statement of State failure,” said United Kingdom-based academic and lawyer Alex Magaisa.
At the height of the biting food shortages and hyperinflation in 2008, a group of soldiers looted shops and confiscated foreign currency from street traders in Harare, as their anger boiled over amid the difficulties.
“The regime is living on borrowed time and its days are numbered. Every indication is pointing to a scenario in which the regime will, very soon, be completely incapable of paying salaries to its employees.
“The Zanu PF regime literally struggled to pay bonuses for civil servants in 2015 and there are now clear signs of an implosion in the national treasury as salary dates are being shifted each and every succeeding month.
“One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate that both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will not advance any loans to a financially delinquent and politically illegitimate regime,” said MDC spokesperson Gutu said.
Earlier this month, teachers, nurses and doctors went on strike after the government also failed to pay them on time.
Amid all this, tension is rising in the country as fed up Zimbabweans join hands to demand change and an end to Mugabe and Zanu PF’s rule, which they say has been catastrophic.