Stepping into the ongoing strike by Zimbabwean public service employees, President Robert Mugabe on Friday said the government cannot afford to increase salaries but promised a better future for the workers.
Mr. Mugabe told participants at the launch of the so-called Kadoma Declaration on labor relations that Harare is doing the best it can to improve wages and conditions for workers. He asked civil servants to be patient while government stabilized the economy.
Mr. Mugabe again called for Western targeted travel and financial sanctions against him and his inner circle to be lifted, saying they were hobbling government efforts to revive the troubled economy.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti said this week that the government is bringing in US$100 million a month of which US$65 million goes to salaries. The strike by civil servants is now entering its fourth week. Workers have been sitting in at their workplaces.
Labor Minister Paurina Mpariwa told VOA Studio 7 reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that the government wants to raise wages but is strapped at the moment.
Representatives of the striking workers were quick to dismiss the president's comments, saying government officials have not even bothered to meet with them to discuss demands. Tendayi Chikowore, chairwoman of the Apex council that negotiates for civil servants, said the fact that public service employee representatives were not invited to the Kadoma Declaration launch showed the insincerity of the government.
Chikowore dismissed Biti’s statement on revenues, telling VOA Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere that Harare has given the armed forces and government minister substantial pay increases.
ZANU-PF officials meanwhile, were putting final touches on a party starting Friday night in Bulawayo to mark President Mugabe’s 86th birthday. Critics said the extravaganza with international musical artists was inappropriate when so many Zimbabweans are struggling and state workers are on strike.
Political analyst John Makumbe of the University of Zimbabwe told VOA Studio 7 reporter Marvellous Mhlanga-Nyahuye that public outrage is justified.
Elsewhere, Indigenization and Empowerment minister Savior Kasukuwere, a member of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF, told a business conference in Bulawayo that government was pressing ahead with plans to transfer control of foreign firms to local ownership despite objections from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change party.
"The debate around indigenization is dead," Reuters quoted Kasukuwere as saying. "We are not about to reopen the debate. We are not about to destroy the economy; far from it."