Zimbabwe, like other African countries, is trying a phased re-opening of schools after closing in March due to COVID-19.
But many teachers like 33-year-old Munyaradzi Masiyiwa are refusing to return to class, pointing to low pay and unsafe conditions.
Masiyiwa said he makes more money selling brooms than teaching at Cranborne Boys Government High School in Harare.
“We have got the zeal, we love the children at school," Masiyiwa said. "But only if the government manages to capacitate us. We are in an under-capacitation situation. We are in a situation where we cannot raise transport fares to connect our home(s) and work station(s), if we have got food at the table, and also, the most important thing: We need to have a living wage of 520 USD, the salary that we were getting in 2018. It’s just a restoration of our dignity. I will be happy to report for duty.”
Zimbabwe’s teachers said they want at least $500 per month and equipment like masks, face shields, and hand sanitizer to protect themselves against COVID-19.
Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped government said it has procured $6 million worth of PPEs for schools.
Public Service Minister Paul Mavima said teacher salaries, about $100 a month, including a $75 “COVID-19 allowance” is all the government can afford.
"It is in this context that we are saying to civil servants please be realistic, exercise moderation in the manner in which you demand salary increases, we don’t want salary increases that will upset the stability that we have so far realized and further torpedo the economic recovery that we have started to see," Mavima said.
Without teachers in class, Zimbabwe’s school children are the ones left paying the price.
At Glen View High School, students said they only discuss lessons among themselves. Filda Rusheje is one of their parents. She is worried the children won’t learn enough to pass their exams.
“The situation at schools is a tough one," Rusheje said. "They are going to school but they are not learning. My daughter said they are just discussions among learners. They are not even sure if it’s making sense because teachers are not coming. I just wish if the government can negotiate with the teachers so that our children can learn. I want them to look after us in future.”
Zimbabwe’s government has threatened to replace defiant teachers like Masiyiwa if they don’t soon return to the classrooms.