Parakokwa, Maxwell (2017)


This thesis critically investigated the role that Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) social dialogue has played in influencing socio-economic development in Zimbabwe since its establishment in 1998. The thesis studied the outturn of the TNF across arguably the most defining epochs in post-independent Zimbabwe, that is, the “lost decade” (1999-2009), the inclusive government era (2009-2013) and the post-inclusive government era (2013-2017) in which socio-economic crises have taken root and evolved dramatically. In line with the case study research design, the thesis’ findings and arguments are anchored on extensive interactions held with TNF members drawn from government, business and labour who shared their knowledge and experiences, as well as their emotions and aspirations for the TNF. This thesis is therefore a gateway into the TNF platform for the outsider, drawing insights on how the corporatist endeavour has consistently fallen flat and failed to establish itself as a veritable policy making entity. The thesis demonstrated that the TNF is at odds with all assumptions of the corporatist school of thought; both in terms of its associational properties and concertative character, as it lacks the collectivism and process factors that are implicit to corporatism. The TNF was found to be severely blighted by polarisation as the consolidation of political power by the ZANU (PF) party had inevitably led to a hard-line stance by the government most overtly against organised labour, which at the turn of the millennium had formed the MDC political party and actively colluded with business in the quest for political transformation. The resultant power struggles had a telling effect on the industrial relations and social dialogue landscape as the government assumed hegemonic standing in the face of subdued business and labour fronts. The thesis further revealed that the TNF’s governance and institutional set-up served to further the government’s hold on the forum at the expense of co-ownership and mutual obligation among the partners. At the same time, the corporative worth and strength of both business and labour had been seriously undermined by massive de-industrialisation and high unemployment within the formal economy as a result of the persisting economic crisis. It is apparent that the government has been careful not to accord the TNF a truly concertative socio-economic policy making status by focusing its agenda on rather narrow issues, most notably on labour law reforms, while at the same time the social partners have grown unenthusiastic and disenfranchised by the forum’s working methods. The thesis, in keeping with the views of the forum’s key informants, proposes quantum changes to the TNF’s governance and modus operandi in an effort to devolve authority as well as to equalise the power and stake of the parties in the dialogue process. This reform agenda is mainly dependent upon the government’s commitment to embrace the de-escalation of industrial relations tension v by according social partners full entitlement to the rights to freedom of association and the right to organise, among other similar legislative and practical measures that are in line with international best practice. As a turnaround strategy, the thesis proposes a tripartite-plus social dialogue model that recognises that the TNF does not exist in a vacuum but must derive its mandate from the general public and drive its processes through integrated and synergised relationships with other stakeholders that include civil society organisations and the academia. A perpetuation of TNF social dialogue under the status quo, as the thesis argues, would amount to attempting the impossible – of proportions reminiscent of the ancient Greek endeavour to geometrically square the circle.