By Criswell Chisango
Kariba, September 10, 2013 – Steven Chinanga looks dejected with signs of poverty written all over his face as he has nothing to show off after spending 25 years toiling in the deep waters of Kariba dam as a fisherman here.
Aged 58 years and with six children to care for, the tall and slim built Chinanga looks worn out.
“My other three children are no longer attending school as I cannot afford to pay fees after I was laid off. I was a casual worker for nearly three decades. Poverty is knocking at our doors” he says.
Chinanga is the president of Kapenta Workers Union of Zimbabwe that has 8 000 members covering Chalala, Bumi Hills, and Binga among other areas that was set up to represent the interests of fisherman.
The ownership of the fishery business by black Zimbabweans encouraged by the government’s indigenization and empowerment programme has not changed the fortunes of the struggling fishermen in this resort town.
“Indigenisation is the worst magic potion for thousands of fishermen here and their families. We are not protected by the law as workers. We are suffering. None of us has benefitted as yet,’’ he says.
The resort town’s economic revival hinges on fishery and tourism but many of the workers are battling to make ends meet as they also face daily abuse from exploitive employers.
“The majority of our employers are blacks and are abusing employees. We work for 17 hours daily but they only pay for eight hours. Our basic salary is $124 per month although a fisherman can harvest 25 tonnes of kapenta in a month and during good days,’’ he says.
Another fisherman, Friday Gondwe is also languishing in poverty after he was dismissed from employment four years ago.
Chinanga and Gondwe are among ten workers laid off as casuals but are fighting for their rights through the courts to be retained or be compensated for unpaid hours during the years that they were employed.
“Our plight goes beyond living members as some perished in the lake but none were ever compensated. Their families and spouses were never assisted. It is a pity that the government is not assisting us besides making claims of empowering the majority. Why empower us with men without mercy to their kith and kin?,” Gondwe questioned.
He adds that no inquest has been made to over 80 fishermen since the mid-eighties making their commitment to fishery a dream.
“There is no compensation because we are all casual workers signing daily, weekly or monthly contracts subjecting us to slavery. Our employers regard us as slaves. No one is assisting us as we are subjected to inhuman treatment” Gondwe added.
Radio VOP’s attempts to solicit the employers’ response to the employee’s accusations drew blanks as they referred this reporter to the National Employment Council officials in Harare.
One employer accused some fishermen of breaching their employment contracts by conducting some ‘’underhand dealings’’ through selling kapenta to some third parties.
“Black market strives in the lake where mostly Zambians target fishermen during night errands. They make a lot of money that compensate for low wages they are complaining about’’ says the employer who declined to be named.
But while employers rack in the dollars from the fish exports, Gondwe and Chininga together with other retrenchees watch helplessly as the proprietors exploit the fish from their place of birth without any compensation.