Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

The Teacher

Formerly a teacher in a private school, Joseph Masunungure can only dream of taking up a similar job in the UK.
By Jennifer Koons
Joseph Masunungure is a teacher. His classroom is a dimly lit kitchen where he writes up lesson plans while his sister-in-law makes breakfast. He waits all day for his two pupils – his niece and nephew – to arrive home from school so he can help them with their assignments.



Four years ago, he taught mathematics to 45 primary school students at a private academy in Zimbabwe.



“We had maps on the wall and exercise books,” said Masunungure, who asked that his name be changed for his safety. “This may not seem like a lot to most people living in London today but it meant a great deal that every student had a desk. They were eager to be there and so was I.”



Then one afternoon, one of his pupils told him that he could no longer attend the class since his father believed Masunungure sympathised with the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, the main opposition to President Robert Mugabe.



That was his last day at the school near Bulawayo where he had taught for seven years. That night, he and his parents decided it would be best if he left the country. There had been rumours for several weeks that he was under surveillance. His brother had worked for the MDC and fled a few years earlier.



Soon Masunungure joined him – and his UK family – in London.



“I was lucky,” he said. “So many of my people are being forced to flee to strange lands. I had a place to go. I had someone to take care of me.”



But the move hasn’t been without its complications. Several years have passed and Masunungure hasn’t received official papers granting him refugee status, which means he can’t legally work.



“I worry about not being able to help my brother and I miss my students,” he said. “It is strange trying to occupy yourself like this all day. But my brother says that in a way I am lucky. He was a development worker in Zimbabwe, but now he is a store clerk.”



Masunungure sleeps on a pull-out couch in the family’s one-bedroom flat near Brick Lane. He spends most days at home reading or walking around the neighbourhood. While there may be no practical need to do so, he still dresses the part of an academic and – even on weekends – wears a button-up dress shirt and slacks.



Although soft-spoken, he looks you in the eye when he talks and, like a good teacher, he will repeat himself until he is sure you have understood what he is trying to say.



He said he would like to return to his home country someday if only to help the students who he feels sure have been abandoned.



“So many students can no longer go to school,” he said. “They are forced to pay for their own classroom materials – and they can’t. They do not even have food to bring with them and I have heard stories of students fainting during class. They need good teachers but all of the teachers have been pushed out like me.”



While the world’s attention is focused on Mugabe, Masunungure said others within the government are more to blame and are the reason that the unpopular ruler has remained in power.



“Things aren’t going to change – not because of Mugabe but because of the people under him,” he said. “Mugabe can find protection in any African country. But the people who hold the top security posts can’t leave because they won’t be protected for the crimes they have committed.”



Masunungure said people in Zimbabwe fear law enforcement officers and other officials. “The police are part of it,” he said. “Everyone is a part of it.”



He added that he has lost confidence in the ability of other leaders in the region to offer much assistance.



“Mugabe is a bully,” said Masunungure. “He is a freedom fighter, and because of that, the others, like [South African President] Mbeki, won’t stand up to him.”



One consolation for him is that the current regime has not interfered with the transfer of money to his family back home.



“My brother transfers money back for my parents and two sisters ever few weeks,” he said. “With everything that has happened recently, we are very worried that eventually they won’t get what we send them. So far, they are doing alright.”



It’s almost four o’clock, and it is time for Masunungure to go. His niece and nephew will be home from school soon.



“My nephew struggles with maths,” he said, smiling. “That is OK though. I am happy to help him.”



Jennifer Koons is an IWPR reporter in London.