School’s out in Zimbabwe after 135,000 teachers suspended
HARARE — A strike by Zimbabwean teachers that has crippled learning entered a second week on Monday, with no resolution in sight after the government suspended 135,000 teachers for failing to report for work.
Many teachers stayed away when schools opened for the first term of the new year last week, saying they could no longer afford the commute.
An AFP correspondent who toured schools in the capital Harare found students milling around the grounds or playing in classrooms.
Some schools were completely vacant with neither teachers nor pupils present.
Last Thursday, the education ministry said it was suspending teachers for three months for not reporting for duty.
Unions said some 135,000 of Zimbabwe’s roughly 140,000 public school teachers have been suspended.
“The government has closed schools by suspending more than 90 percent of teachers,” Takavafira Zhou, president of Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, told AFP.
Teachers in Zimbabwe earn on average US$100 per month.
The pay dispute dates to three years ago when the government switched from paying workers in US dollars to Zimbabwean dollars, whose value has decreased because of inflation.
“The lowest paid teacher is earning around US$80 and we are saying we want a restoration of the salary we were earning under (former president Robert) Mugabe which was US$540,” Zhou said.
He accused the government of “ill-treating” teachers.
“No teacher grows money in a garden or receives it like manna from heaven,” he said, accusing the government of using “thuggery methods” to try to force teachers to return to work, and vowing that unions would fight the suspensions in court.
During the rule of the autocratic Mugabe, himself a trained teacher, Zimbabwe prided itself on having among the highest standards of educations in Africa.
Zimbabwean students have already lost several months of learning time to Covid-19 lockdowns.
The largest opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) condemned “in the strongest terms, the purported suspension of teachers… and the continued neglect of the teacher remuneration crisis” by the government.
Party spokeswoman Fadzayi Mahere said children were first casualties of the long-drawn-out dispute.
She implored the government to tackle the educators’ grievances to “avert a complete collapse of what remains of our education system”.
“The approach of the regime constitutes a direct attack on the poor, the majority of whom have their children attending public schools”.
The economy of the southern African country has been on a downward spiral for more than a decade.
Strikes by teachers, nurses and doctors are common as many battle to make ends meet and demand higher pay.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over from Mugabe after the longtime leader was toppled in a coup, pledged to revive the economy.
But analysts say he has so far failed to do better than Mugabe.
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