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100,000 Zimbabwe Teachers Boycott Schools Over Low Pay, COVID-19 Fears

FILE: Teachers protesting against low pay and poor working conditions.
FILE: Teachers protesting against low pay and poor working conditions.

More than 100,000 teachers have joined a nationwide boycott of classes demanding salary payments in United States dollars and improved working conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has so far killed over 200 Zimbabweans.

They appealed to President Emmerson Mnangagwa to intervene and address their grievances They are demanding that the lowest paid teacher be given at least $500 per month as their income has been eroded by hyperinflation.

In a statement, eight teachers’ unions said more teachers are expected to join the industrial action, which started when schools opened Monday after they were closed in March due to COVID-19 fears.

“… More (teachers) are expected to partake because their poverty is a reality. There is no meaningful teaching and learning taking place in schools because the few teachers who decided to report for duty have adopted the clock in- sit in/ walk out style due to fear of victimization. Government is lying to the world that they have done everything to protect the teachers and learners against COVID-19.

“There are no enough PPEs provided by Government. Schools are yet to receive the COVID-19 abatement equipment. No testing of teachers and learners for COVID-19 done. Teachers and learners were made to congregate without ascertaining if they were COVID-19-free.”

The unions, which include the Zimbabwe Teachers Union, Progressive Teachers Union, Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union and others, attacked Primary and Secondary Education Minister who has threatened to recruit new teachers.

“The Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Cain Mathema, has threatened to fire incapacitated (teachers) and replace them with 10,000 unemployed teachers without making effort to engage the Unions to hear the teachers' grievances.

“To Minister Mathema, this is the time to engage the relevant stakeholders, especially teachers' unions rather than bellowing out threats. These threats will not solve the problems at hand but rather exacerbate the situation. Instead of addressing the labour issues raised by teachers, you have threatened to fire the incapacitated teachers. It is very dangerous to view every problem as a nail where a hammer should be applied. A free warning we are offering you is that the route you want to take will leave you bruised. It's not too late to engage.”

The unions urged teachers attending classes to stay away. “… All our members are legally covered. To the free-riders, a clarion call we are making is that this is the time to join any union of your choice and be counted as part of the solution rather than problem to the challenges being faced by teachers.

“Teachers should also desist from the clock in-sit in/ walk out style because that is very dangerous and very a serious offence. Unions will find it difficult to defend such teachers if found wanting.”

Zimbabweans have been urged to support the teachers’s strike for the benefit of their children and the nation.

“To all level-headed Zimbabweans, churches and parliamentarians, you can't afford to fold your hands during these trying times where the education and future of your children and the country is being tampered with. Please, implore Government to pay teachers a living wage. The teachers are languishing in abject poverty and have fallen from grace to grass with monotonous regularity so much that they have no capacity to teach their students. If this impasse is not resolved, it will haunt our society.”

Teachers’ unions have urged students to rise up for their own benefit.

“To our students, as your teachers, we love you so much but the situation is not yet conducive. We also want to call upon you to amplify our plea for better treatment from Government. If the Soweto Students did it in the 1970s against the Apartheid Regime in South Africa, you can also do it here. The voices of the students may send a bold message to our arrogant minister of primary and secondary education. Once the sticking issues are dealt with, your teachers will adequately prepare you for your examinations.”

They said time has come for the president to intervene following Mathema’s refusal to address their concerns.

“To President E. D. Mnangagwa, what is happening in the education sector should have moved you by now. Your silence, Your Excellency, is shocking. We don't want to believe that you want to be remembered for destroying the education system of this country when you are gone. The teachers need your attention and the time for positive intervention is now.”

Mathema told VOA Studio 7 recently that he was unaware of the teachers’ grievances. He was unreachable for comment as he was not responding to calls on his mobile phone.