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Zimbabweans Struggle to Pay Higher School Fees; Strike by Teachers Looms

Parents in Bulawayo, Chitungwiza and elsewhere said they are pulling their children out of state and private boarding schools which increased tuition fees by 40 percent last month

Some Zimbabwean families say they are struggling to raise tuition fees and buy uniforms for their children as schools open tomorrow for the first term of 2012.

Elsewhere, some teachers were threatening to strike over low pay.

Parents in Bulawayo and Chitungwiza, and in Matabeleland South and Midlands provinces said they are already pulling children out of state and private boarding schools which increased tuition fees by 40 percent last month.

Public schools increased boarding fees by $25 to $395 a term while private boarding schools boosted fees by the same amount to $585.

State schools put fees for day scholars up to $180 a term from $160.

Parents said the situation has been made worse by retailers who have raised uniform prices from $15 to $40 as they too are struggling to survive.

Bulawayo resident Samukeliso Sibanda said most parents are withdrawing their children from boarding schools. A Chitungwiza police officer who gave his name as Mathalo said he could not raise $60 dollars for fees because he has not been paid for two months.

Artisan James Timire said that although he is an average income earner he is also struggling to educate his two children. But Timire sympathizes with the demand by teachers for a living wage so pupils can access quality education.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Takavafira Zhou urged members of the rival Zimbabwe Teachers Association to join a national strike his union is proposing for Tuesday, hoping to force the government to again increase teachers’ salaries.

But the Zimbabwe Teachers Association said its members should report for duty when schools open Tuesday. ZIMTA President Tendai Chikowore, who is also chairwoman of the Apex Council which negotiates with the government on behalf of civil servants, said her council hopes to engage government negotiators Wednesday on salaries.

Chikowore said it will be counterproductive for teachers to engage in a strike while they are still negotiating with the government.

The teachers are demanding salary increases of up to 40 percent.

Junior teachers are netting $253 a month in a nation whose poverty line for an urban family of six is currently pegged at $540 a month.

"We hope that our colleagues in ZIMTA will realize that the best way forward is industrial action because the language that our government understands is industrial action and that they will be joining us on Wednesday," Zhou said.