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Zimbabwe Teachers’ strike paralyzes education sector, leads to pupils delinquency

Tatenda Chitagu

Harare: —Clad in full school uniforms, videos of girls twerking to boys up-close and personal, kissing, as well as boys swirling with desks and viciously fighting in classrooms have gone viral in Zimbabwe and beyond.

Such is the current state of the southern African country’s education sector following the crippling strike by teachers when schools opened after a six-month hiatus caused by the outbreak of the corona virus pandemic.

Teachers failed to report for duty when schools re-opened for the third term on 28 September for final examinations, demanding not less than US$520 in salaries, as well as adequate personal protective equipment.

Currently, they earn less than US$40 a month.

Three leading teachers unions, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union in Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), Progressive Teachers Union in Zimbabwe (PTUZ) and the pro-government Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) declared incapacitation and cited government’s favoritism by paying soldiers more.

In a letter to chairperson of the Public Service Commission Vincent Hungwe, ARTUZ secretary General Robson Chere called for an upward review of teachers’ salaries to their August 2018 threshold of $520 United States Dollars or the equivalent at the prevailing inter-bank rate before classes can resume.

“This letter serves to inform you that as ARTUZ members we are incapacitated to report back for duty and survive this harsh economic environment heightened by COVID-19. We can no longer afford transport to duty stations, to pay basic food stuffs, rentals, water, electricity bills and other essential services now priced in USD.

“Our paltry salaries in Real Time Gross Settlement) RTGS cannot sustain us for a whole month or even a week. We request an urgent review of our salaries in USD or RTGs at the prevailing interbank rate (with monthly review) from the government. We urge the employer to come up with an urgent solution to avert our situation,” reads the letter.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president  Takavafira Zhou said teachers have been patient enough with government but their favour has not been returned

“What is inherently clear is that teachers have all tested positive to poverty and unless there is a concerted effort to address this long standing issue, teachers would be incapacitated to report for work on 28 July 2020.”

“Government has also been arrogant to the extent of introducing discrepancies among its employees with effect from June 2020 under what Presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, called presidential prerogative. That presidential prerogative is at best a fantasy and at worst a dangerous threat to security of the country and teaching profession. Teachers’ salaries have remained pegged at $3800 to $4500 at a time when sectors that hitherto earned less than teachers increased to $8000-$19000 and $9000-$20 000.”

“Government salaries are determined by qualifications, years of experience, responsibility and promotion. It is puzzling that the qualifications, responsibility, promotions and years of experience of teachers have suddenly been rendered useless by the new dispensation,” Zhou said.

The Zimbabwe Teachers Association, which usually is pro-government, rejected a ZWL$1 500 cushion (US$15) availed by government following the strike.

“We are escalating our campaign for better salaries and allowances. We call upon all bona-fide members and sympathizers to join in the chorus of better salaries.”

“We have refused to acknowledge the 40% offer meant to hoodwink us into believing that we have received an increase, nothing is further from reality than this. Intimidation is always there in struggles but doesnt kill, hence it should not worry you,” ZIMTA said in a statement.

Addressing a post-Cabinet Press briefing Tuesday, Labour Minister Paul Mavhima said teachers have to be realistic with their demands.

“The unions must be reasonable and any salary negotiations should not destabilize the economy and reverse the gains that have already been made by government in stabilizing prices and containing inflation,” he said.

But the teachers workforce of 130 000 has dug in, despite government’s threats to fire them and hire unemployed qualified  and temporary teachers to supervise the final examinations.

“How can 25 000 teachers replace 130 000 teachers,” ZIMTA told its members.

Following the standoff, disturbing reports of teenage boozing, binge sex and bullying have emerged mostly at boarding schools dotted around the country where the pupils record themselves during such acts. Some videos and pictures of student delinquency have been circulating on social media platforms this week.

Primary and Secondary Education Minister Cain Mathema said he was unaware of the misconduct by pupils without teachers’ supervision.

“I am not aware of that. I am getting that from you,” Mathema told the media.

However, several parents with pupils at boarding schools have said, following the disturbing videos and pictures, they are contemplating withdrawing their pupils until normalcy returns at schools.

United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF-Zimbabwe) said in a report that the continued school closures have affected the social, mental and academic well-being of pupils.

The prolonged school closures are likely to have a major and negative affect on children’s learning, physical, social and mental health and well-being threatening hard-won educational achievements for years to come.

Prolonged school closures will likely exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and inequalities among children, especially girls, children with disabilities, those in rural areas, orphans and vulnerable children, as well as those from poor households and fragile families.

“School closures have the potential to widen learning disparities and increase the risk of some learners permanently dropping out of school,” UNICEF said in its report.

Teachers commemorated the annuls UNESCO World Teachers Day on October 5 under the theme, “Teachers: Leading in crisis, re-imagining the future”.

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