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Teachers Face ZANU PF Cash Demands

Authorities forcing school staff to provide funds for statehood anniversary.
By IWPR Srdan

Schoolteachers in Zimbabwe’s rural schools are having money extorted from them by the ruling ZANU PF party to help bankroll its 25th independence anniversary celebrations beginning on April 18, IWPR can reveal.

Meanwhile, large numbers of rural teachers are applying for transfers to urban schools to escape constant harassment by President Robert Mugabe’s much-feared personal stormtroopers - the 50,000-strong national youth militia widely known as the Green Bombers.

Letters sent by ZANU PF provincial leaders, and seen by IWPR, set out details of the Silver Jubilee payments expected from each teacher according to his or her rank.

“Secondary school teachers are required to pay around six and a half US dollars,” reads a letter from one ZANU PF district committee to a school in Mashonaland Central province. “From primary school teachers we will need around four dollars and headmasters will have to pay 16 dollars.”

The average pre-tax monthly salary of a Zimbabwean schoolteacher is around 110 dollars.

“It is our hope that each headmaster will make sure that all his teachers comply as we need the money to make our Silver Jubilee a resounding success,” reads the letter, which bears the official ZANU PF letterhead.

Although the letter does not state what measures will be taken against teachers who fail to pay, IWPR understands there are plenty of subtle and no-so-subtle methods to ensure compliance. Teachers who have defied party directives in the past have been denied food aid, which has now become essential for survival in rural areas following the collapse of the agricultural system. They are also threatened with transfers to areas remote from their families.

“Teachers have long been under pressure from Mugabe’s militia and now they are being forced to make donations for a national project. That’s not fair,” Raymond Majongwe, secretary general of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, PTUZ, told IWPR.

Majongwe was arrested, detained illegally for a week, assaulted and tortured by police after leading a strike for better pay and conditions two years ago. The majority of teachers have traditionally been supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, and this has triggered waves of government repression against them.

In 2002, during a presidential election which resulted in a narrow victory for Mugabe, 30 schools were forcibly closed by government supporters and Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge told a teachers’ conference, “You can even be killed for supporting the opposition.” Hundreds fled from rampaging ZANU PF militants who beat them up and burnt down their homes.

In the run-up to the parliamentary election on March 31, Majongwe has warned his members that the state’s Central Intelligence Organisation, CIO, has sent its agents into state schools to deter pro-MDC teachers from trying to influence communities to support the opposition. Education Minister Aeneas Chigwedere has warned, “Any teacher caught in the political web will pay for it.”

One of Majongwe’s PTUZ officials, MacDonald Maungazani, said, “Teachers are opinion leaders and that is why the CIO has initiated this programme to spy on them. We are urging our members to be careful what they say in the staffroom or beer hall.”

Teachers have traditionally been community leaders in remote rural areas where they have been a vital source of guidance for people who are widely illiterate. The majority of teachers, disgruntled by poor pay and deteriorating working conditions, turned to the MDC when it emerged in 2000, earning the wrath of ZANU PF and Mugabe, who accused teachers of trying to brainwash rural schoolchildren.

The majority of rural schools have no textbooks, stationery or chalk, let alone computers. The parlous state of these schools has developed in a country that at independence boasted the best education system in Africa. As recently as 2000 primary school enrolment was 93 per cent, but the figure has since slumped to below 50 per cent, with the dropout rate continuing to accelerate.

To counter the popularity of the PTUZ, Mugabe recently established a pro-ZANU PF teachers’ union, the Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, TUZ, which has been compelling teachers to undergo military training at national youth militia camps and attend ZANU PF rallies. A teacher at Nyamhuka Secondary School, in the Eastern Highlands, said, “We have been told that we need the TUZ for our safety ahead of the parliamentary election. Our headmaster made it clear that we would ignore his advice at our own peril. We have become TUZ members for security reasons.”

In the Eastern Highlands capital of Mutare, an MDC stronghold and place of intense political violence, scores of teachers daily converge on the local education offices seeking transfers to urban and suburban schools. They cite intimidation and fears of violence as election day draws near.

While fear grips the teaching profession, AIDS is killing tens of thousands of its members. The United Nations estimates that one-third of the country’s 110,000 teachers are HIV-positive and that by 2010 at least 38,000 of them will be dead.

The statistics are chilling. There’s been nothing like it since the Black Death in 14th century Europe. And, of course, it has a knock-on effect on children already deprived of textbooks and writing materials.

There are now more than a million AIDS orphans in a country with just 11.5 million people. As the country’s economy and social fabric rapidly deteriorates, teachers have increasingly taken to alcohol and lengthy absenteeism while being blamed for infecting pupils as young as 11 with HIV.

Chipo Sithole is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Harare.

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