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    Monday, 2 September 2019

    The Iron lady of labour movement is no more



     
     The late Angeline Chitambo.
    Matthew Takaona
    At 8am on Friday August 30, 2019, Angeline Chitambo one of the country’s most fearless trade union leaders breathed her last.
    The news devastated thousands of Zimbabwean workers and regional and international labour movements across the Globe.
    Angie as she was popularly known was the President of the Zimbabwe Energy Workers’ Union (ZEWU), one of the strongest unions in the country.
    She was imprisoned many times and was fired by Zesa in ..... because of her labour activism and won her case against the employer being represented by Advocate Rodgers Matsikidze of Matsikidze Law Chambers. As has become the norm the ruling by Justice Matanda Moyo to either reinstate her or to pay damages had not been carried out until she died.
    ZEWU is also one of the largest unions in the country with a membershio close to 10 000 and it occupies key sectors in the economy. Members of the Union are drawn from Zesa subsidiaries including ZETDC, REA, Powertell, Zent, and ZPC. The other organisations are Petrotrade, NOIC, Zambezi River Authority, Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority, PMZ , Greenfuel , Aggrekko and negotiations are under way to bring in the Forestry Commission.
    Angie had contrasting qualities as a union leader, combative yet accommodative but never compromising on principle. Those qualities took her far during wage bargaining processes including winning some of the best minimum wages for her members.
    Angie leaves her firm footprint in the history of labour movement in this country. Those who sat the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) general council at the turn of the decade will tell you that Angie was the catalyst behind the split of the organisation in 2011.
    She fiercely disagreed with ZCTU secretary general Wellington Chibhebhe who she described as a bourgeois driven by donor funding from the West. She detested the lavish lifestyles emerging at the labour centre where secretariat workers drove the state of art vehicles and enjoyed lush allowances.
    On the other hand Angie always agreed with Lovemore Matombo, the ZCTU president. She admired Matombo’s pro-poor, pro-worker stance and because of that Angie was always actively working to build a wedge between the two and the gulf was wide by the time ZCTU was ready for the 2011 Congress.
    The Union split on the eve of congress when Angie who had rallied several powerful and influential unions accused the secretariat led by Chibhebhe of inflating membership of unions sympathetic to him in a bid to rig the elections.
    Unions including ZEWU, Progressive Teachers’ Union led by Raymond Majongwe, the Communications and Allied Workers’ Union led by Matombo, Zimbabwe Rural District Councils Workers’ Union led by James Gumbi, Graphic Workers’ Union, Civil Service Employees Association, Airways Workers Union and Leather Workers’ Union led by Isdore Zindoga and the Commercial Workers’ Union broke away from the ZCTU and became known as the Concerned Affiliates. The move crippled ZCTU and the labour movement has never been the same until today. It has since become impotent.
    Angie also sharply differed with her colleagues on ZCTU affiliation to the MDC. She believed in a ZCTU whose politics was determined by the mood of the moment and not a centre that perpetually and permanently belonged to a certain political party.
    Born in 1966 in Tsholotsho to parents who came from Mutoko, Angie went to Magwegwe School in Bulawayo, Msitheli School and got her degree in Women and Entrepreneurship from Women’s University. She was trilingual.
    Chitambo worked for Zesa and joined Zewu as a young employee in 1987. She rose from being a committee member to a branch executive and she was by 1990 in the women’s structures. In 2000 she was an acting vice president and became substantive vice president in 2003.
    She was elected the third ZEWU woman president in 2006 and re-elected to the same position in 2011 and she died in the same capacity.
    On assuming office as president, Angie went on an international offensive to network and rebrand ZEWU abroad and the organisation was by the time of her death occupying executive positions in numerous international labour organisations.
    ZEWU signed bilateral agreements with ACV – CSC BIE of Belgium and also secured a project with IGBC of Belgium for training of women.  Angie was an executive member of Indusitri All Global Union which has millions of members all over the world and she enabled ZEWU to join international federations like Building and Workers International and World Federation of Trade Unions.
    The networks enabled her to bring in a lot of funding for youth and women empowerment programmes which she enhanced in the ZEWU constitution through her pro-youth and pro-women policies.
    “You cannot take away Angie’s achievements from ZEWU. She raised the Union from one level to another. She was an industrious and principled trade unionist,” said ZEWU general secretary, Martin Chikuni.
    Angie was also a board member of the Zimbabwe Labour Center whose mandate is to train workers in labour issues. ZEWU is one of the most effective unions in Zimbabwe in terms of wage negotiations and its members are among the most well paid on the market.
    During her tenure she worked hard to build ZEWU into a strong union, tightening its constitution and acquiring properties including cars and a 6 000 square metre commercial stand at Meyrick Park in Mabelreign where the union intends to build a training centre. 
    Ephanos Makiwa the former president of the Zimbabwe Urban Councils Workers’ Union described Angie as a strong and fearless trade unionist who stood for the interest of workers.
    “When she said workers revolt, it would be a revolt, when she called for a strike, it was a strike and when she said a demo against Government, she would be there in the streets to face the Police,” said Makiwa.
    Many described Angie as a kind woman. Angie would always remember to bring a few gifts for members each time she travelled abroad. She particularly empathised with “comrades in distress” including those fired from work. She would do as much as she could to find them some work at the union. Such job facilitations extended to members of other unions fired for their involvement in the fight for workers’ rights.
    Her husband, Godfrey Chitambo also described Angie as a fearless labour activist. He complemented her for her ability to balance her roles as a trade unionist, a worker, a mother, a mother-in-law and a wife.
    “I was her number one supporter in her trade union work. I realised that trade unionism was in her blood and I gave her space to the extent that she would spend a few days at home every month as she travelled locally and abroad. Sometimes we will meet at the airport as she arrived from one assignment and boarded another plane on the same day to go on another.
    “If Angie was successful as a trade unionist then I was 40% of that success,” said Chitambo who is the Chief Execitive Officer of the Microfinance Association.
    The couple is blessed with three children two boys and a girl.
    Hamba kahle Angie! Famba Zvakanaka! Rest in eternal peace!
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