Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary-general, Raymond Majongwe (RM) says teachers are dying and committing suicide due to stress-related illnesses brought about by overworking and poor remuneration. In a wide-ranging interview with our senior reporter Blessed Mhlanga (BM), Majongwe said teachers would not be reporting for duty when schools open on Tuesday, saying the 97% salary increment offered by government to civil servants was a mockery to their dignity.
Below are the excerpts from the interview
BM: Teachers have threatened to down tools when schools open on Tuesday, has anything happened to change this position?
RM: As far as my reading goes, I have seen two unions Zimta and PTUZ taking a very clear position and communicating to the Public Service Commission and to their members that they will not be turning up for duty not because they are going for a strike, but purely because they are too incapacitated to do so. As for the PTUZ, we are coming from a congress that took place from the 3rd to the 5th of January and it’s from that congress that the members said we have been trying to engage government but government has not been forthcoming. Government has not been engaging us in good faith and as far as we observe the obtaining situation, going back to work is like saying to government all is well. We need to be saying to government address the plight and suffering of the teachers and listen to the concerns of the teachers.
BM: Government has said its coffers are dry and it has no money, yet you continue to press for more?
RM: The real problem now is we have a country where the leadership live in so much opulence and extravagance and people see it. You open any newspaper and it says one Ministry of Defence official disappears with $20 million and the $20 million is coming from somewhere nobody knows. A teacher is saying give me $5 000 or $6 000 for me to look after my family and save the country but you can’t give them, then we have a problem. The other person who is the wife of the vice-president has access to US$1 million that they can take from a drawer, what then is there for all of us who are not in proximity to power and proximity to people who make decisions and proximity to the availability of these resources? So we are simply saying we need to use our labour. We need to use our collective force to make our demands and that’s why teachers are saying come opening day, parents and pupils alike must really show solidarity with the teachers. The real question is: Why would a teacher go and teach the children of the rich when theirs can’t go to school?
BM: Can you paint the picture of how a teacher is managing at the present moment?
RM: Before the government came up to say schools are not allowed to increase fees, which ultimately they will, the basic charge for a boarding school is not less than $10 000. Here is a government employee who is being paid $700 — money that they got in December. They went through Christmas, they went through New Year, they had to look after their children, extended family from the same $700. They are expected to use that money to go to work, as well as pay school fees, pay rentals and I think that is just asking for too much.
BM: Government has offered you 97% salary hike, what does that mean to you in terms of how government values teachers?
RM: It just shows that we have people who have no idea what teachers are going through, because if you are going to offer us 97% of whatever you are going to give us, it means you have almost doubled what we are saying is insufficient. What we are saying is we live in a country where goods and services have gone up by 5 000% and you give us a 97 % increase. In other words, you are actually making sure that you are worsening our plight because the moment people hear 97% increases, prices and services are going to go up and the truth of the matter is it’s just not workable. I am just going to give you two lines for the survival of teachers; for instance a family of four, they need $600 a month for bread alone. That is one line only and you give that person $2 000 it means ultimately will be $1400 richer and what does $1400 do? You need transport. Transport for one person who is the breadwinner is close to $600 a month. What of the kids? Because we are here to work for our kids, to make sure that our children survive. As far as we are concerned, the 97% actually worsens our situation.
BM: Government is known for wholesale dismissals of striking workers like they have done with striking doctors. There are a lot of teachers who are unemployed out there; don’t you fear that your members will lose their jobs?
RM: The most important position that we are stating is that we are not going on strike. Teachers are simply saying we are incapacitated and as far as the law says, we want to see whoever, because you don’t need a gun or a military man to tell us that you are going to fire us. The most important point here is teachers are simply saying give us what is due to us and we will report for duty. We are not on strike, we are incapacitated. The argument that government wants to use the reserve army, the reserve soldiers, the teachers who are unemployed out there, the most important point is that these teachers they will bring on board if ever they are going to, they will behave exactly like we are doing because it will only take them two months for them to realise that they are being taken for a ride. We implore those teachers to refuse to be used as substitutes for a failed system. Teachers must realise they are worth something. They can’t honestly be told that they are going to replace people because they have been dismissed for crying out loud for better salaries. Government must be made aware that they will be courting trouble if they proceed to dismiss teachers because they are asking for better salaries. They have an election to consider and economic volatility in this country is increasing every day. Economic and political frustration is increasing every day, better they engage people and they give us what we are worth because we are offering our labour to the country for the benefit of the nation. We need solidarity from everybody, the kids, the parents and everybody out there. Why do people want to justify that they will sit and smile as government behaves like a bull in a china shop? You can’t tell me that somebody who is asking to be paid
$6 000 for them to report for duty is asking for too much.
BM: You have met with President Emmerson Mnangagwa and if I quote you well, you said he listened to you, has that meeting brought any joy to teachers?
RM: The most important point that you put across is that “he listened to”, but now we want him to go beyond listening. We want to see the action. We brought to him the plight of the civil servants, we brought to him the plight of teachers. We brought to him issues that shocked him, but nothing has been done. As far as we are concerned, salaries have remained unreasonably low. There is no evidence that if you work hard you will be rewarded for it. There is also need to recognise that we have teachers who have gone to school who hold high qualifications, who are now holders of masters degrees, but that is not being recognised. Teachers are just bunched together. It’s like government simply wants to frustrate its employees. We want the president to do more than listening.
BM: You have been linked to the opposition, especially the teaching profession and some believe this is why teachers are not well looked after. What’s your response?
RM: That is nonsensical. PTUZ and Raymond Majongwe are very apolitical and non-partisan entities. For instance, let me start with myself, the last time that I went to meet Mnangagwa, the social media and many entities of the media were awash with claims that Majongwe had become Zanu PF. This is the tragedy that we have always been suffering; that if I go to engage Zanu PF, I become Zanu PF. Only recently we had a congress and Nelson Chamisa came and there was a huge backlash from people saying we are now MDC. Now how can I be in two parties at the same time? If there are people in Zanu PF, let them be rewarded. Let’s see the soldiers being given money so that we say yes, they are partisan and they are pro-Zanu PF and they are being rewarded for it and possibly we will consider to go and join Zanu PF. There is just no political will to improve the plight and welfare of civil servants in this country. It’s neither here nor there, even if all teachers were going to be Zanu PF today I don’t want to believe that government would go and address their plight. There is just no political will. Teachers have been labelled enemies of the state for no reason yet teachers are non-partisan — they are patriotic and I want to believe government must listen to them.
BM: What are the main challenges that your members are facing owing to poor remuneration?
RM: The levels of attrition, deaths and suicides among teachers have increased as far as we have noted as a union. Only last week we lost about two or three teachers. Some commit suicide, some just died out of depression and these are simple things that we are saying to President Mnangagwa make sure that you address the plight of teachers so that they serve their country well and everybody benefits. A country that does not respect its own teachers is a country that does not progress because a teacher is to the mind what a doctor is to the body.