Labour activism in Zimbabwe: The life and times of Japhet Moyo

In July, a Harare magistrate court remanded the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) Secretary General, Japhet Moyo to 20 August 2019. A day later, on the 9th ZCTU President Peter Mutasa also appeared in court on the same charges and was also further remanded to 20 August. Both are facing treason charges for calling for a 3 day national stay away in January this year, following massive fuel increases.

The stay away was characterised by clashes between citizens, police and the army. According to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, the violence left at least 17, 17 cases of rape or other violations of a sexual nature, 26 abductions, 61 displacements, as well as other forms of human rights violations were reported.

Who is Japhet Moyo?

Moyo won’t give his age but says that he the last born of a family of seven. Although he describes his background as humble it is clear that he carries fond memories of his childhood, growing up in rural Tsholotsho, an area in the western part of Zimbabwe. He did his primary education in the 70s, a period at the height of the Zimbabwe liberation struggle, which affected his education. This disruption in his schooling would later impact his activism.

Moyo managed to get back to school and complete his secondary education but could not proceed to university due to his family’s humble background. Years later however, he made sure to improve his qualifications, skills and the general reading of the world through taking various courses with a number of institutions across the world.

Politicisation and entering the world of work

Having obtained a certificate as a Mechanical Fitter, in 1987 Moyo got his very first job at United Spring and Forging Company, a move that was to shape his path as an activist. At this company he was confronted with worst forms of racism at the hands of his manager.

He later joined a trade union, the National Engineering Worker’s Union and became the secretary of the workers committee. He was later to become an organiser of this union. After seven years in this position he was posted to Harare. Given the nature of the job his responsibilities often went over his job description and he found himself playing a triple role of organiser, researcher and a union educator. It so happened that this was a team of educators that the ZCTU was organising. In quick succession he was elected to the position of deputy secretary general and secretary general.

After 15 years with the National Engineering Workers’ Union he was elected as a deputy secretary general for the ZCTU, while still with the National Engineering Union. He would later become Secretary General of the ZCTU, a position he holds to date.

How does his activism impact family life?

Moyo is reserved about talking about his family and his life outside his activism, a reluctance that can be understand quite well given the nature of his work and the need thereof to protect his family. Just recently he even received death threats due to his activism.

Moyo however, shares that becoming the Secretary General of the largest union in Zimbabwe, has meant changes to his personal life. The biggest change being that he needs to be vigilant at all time. And in the process his family life has suffered too, ‘ I seldom eat out with the family, I can’t frequent same places for security reasons, I’m careful from whom I accept food, I miss playing soccer with my friends’ he says.

Oblivious of the sacrifices their father has had to make, his children through seem to enjoy the attention.

Social networks

Moyo is however quick to point out the support of his wife whom he says has been very understanding. He further, points out the support of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights as being very encouraging. And of course there is his village back in Tsholotsho where he retreats to when everything gets too much and he needs to get away from it all.


General state of the nation

A conversation with one of the country’s leading trade unionist would not be complete if we didn’t touch on the general state of the nation. While Moyo is concerned about what he terms a toxic and polarised environment among civil society actors, as well as declining union membership, he is quick to point out the joys of technology, attributing the technological advances in the media space for keeping activism and trade unionism alive.