ZIMBABAWE’S education system was paralysed this week as a teachers’ strike for better working conditions and remuneration intensified with no immediate solution in sight.
The teachers embarked on industrial action last week to press for a monthly salary of $1,7 billion and improved working conditions.
According to information at hand, only headmasters and their deputies reported for duty.
The country’s largest teachers’ union, Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta), told the Zimbabwe Independent that the strike would continue until the government meets their demands.
Peter Mabhande, the chief executive officer of Zimta, ruled out an immediate engagement with the government to end the strike.
“The nation must know the truth, the strike is going to continue until our demands are met as teachers are finding it difficult to go to work because of the poor salaries they are getting,” Mabhande said. “We are not negotiating with the government. They will have to consult among themselves as our employers and come up with a solution to this crisis.”
The Zimta boss said it was “unfortunate and regrettable” that pupils and parents were being made to suffer as a result of the industrial action.
“Students and parents are suffering as a result of this strike, but as teachers we cannot continue to subsidise government. We can’t afford to send our children to school,” Mabhande said.
The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe’s international affairs secretary, Themba Sithole, said the strike was
justified as teachers could no longer make ends meet on a monthly salary of $400 million.
“A teacher’s salary of $400 million is not enough to make ends meet considering that one needs to buy food, clothes, pay school fees and commute to work from that salary,” Sithole said.
Sithole said teachers were also not happy because they were not benefiting from the Aids levy they contribute to monthly.
“Most of our members have no access to antiretroviral drugs yet month after month they contribute to the fund,” he said.
The strike by teachers is the worst since Independence as students have not had normal classes since the term started seven weeks ago.
Schools are scheduled to close on March 19 to make way for the Easter holiday and the historic polls on March 29.
The strike is also expected to affect the smooth running of the election as in the past the government has recruited teachers as polling officers.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, sources said, would be forced to recruit polling officers from other departments of the civil service.
Education Minister Aeneas Chigwedere could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press, but President Mugabe on Wednesday said his government would address the teachers’ concerns.–Lucia Makamure