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

Teachers Strike Adds to Chaos

They are the latest professionals too have lost patience with the authorities
By Jabu Shoko
Children were turned away from most schools this week as teachers carried out their threat to go on strike.

Analysts and education officials who spoke to IWPR said the industrial action reflected the myriad political and economic woes bedevilling the country.

Over the past few weeks, the country has been hit by wildcat strikes from both the private and public sectors as workers fight for living wages – and to be paid in foreign currency.

President Robert Mugabe had postponed the official opening of schools from January 13 to 27 January, citing chaos in the sector, among them delays in the release of results of last year’s public examinations.

But, as predicted by teacher unions, the two-week break failed to address the sectors’ problems, especially the demand by teachers to be remunerated in either US dollars or the South Africa rand.

Sifiso Ndlovu, acting head of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association, Zimta, told IWPR on the first day of the industrial action, “Teachers have refused to work for peanuts and their response has been overwhelming countrywide.

“The strike is on until the government delivers,” he said, in reference to union demands that the lowest-paid teacher be paid 2,300 US dollars per month.

Raymond Majongwe, the secretary general of the rival teachers’ organisation, the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, PTUZ, concurred, adding that the industrial action was a pointer that the crisis in Zimbabwe was far from over despite bravado from government spin doctors.

“It’s a complete shutdown. The country is at a standstill as far as education is concerned,” said Majongwe, in an interview with IWPR.

“The failure by the government to respond to our demands speaks volumes about Mugabe’s government’s ignorance. They would rather risk the complete collapse of education, which has been in the doldrums since 2000.”

Tendai Chikowore, president of Zimta and chairperson of the bargaining arm of Zimbabwe civil servants, the Apex Council, said nothing had been offered by the government except an acceptance in principle of paying civil servants in foreign currency.

“Regrettably, the conditions that have incapacitated the workers from delivering service as expected continue to affect our members,” said Chikowore, in a statement to the media after the council failed to secure a tangible response from the government regarding civil servants’ salaries.

“The workers have neither the financial resources to travel to work [nor to] sustain themselves. It is against this background that workers will continue to fail to report for duty due to circumstances emanating from incapacitation.”

The government media has completely ignored the teachers’ strike, instead concentrating on news that a coalition government led by Mugabe is expected to be formed following the latest round Southern African Development Community talks, held this time in Pretoria.

John Makumbe, a professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe, said the latest strike to hit the country was indicative of the political climate.

“This latest strike by teachers shows that there is no compromise anymore by the long suffering people of Zimbabwe,” he said.

“The teachers and other civil servants are saying enough is enough. They have suffered so much under the Mugabe dictatorship and they are now flexing their muscles as they see that the current regime, including the SADC, has no solution.”

Makumbe predicted that a coalition government headed by Mugabe would not work as the United States, Britain, Australia and the European Union had slapped on Mugabe and his cronies travel and financial sanctions.

“The crisis will continue, not only in the education sector, but in the entire country. Financiers from the US, the UK, and the EU will have nothing to do with this GPA (the Global Political Agreement, signed in September). The

SADC is wasting its time by supporting Mugabe.”

The EU this week added more names to the list of Mugabe’s cronies banned from travelling and doing business in the bloc, as part of the pressure to get him to quit.

Ernest Mudzengi, a Harare-based political analyst who works for the National Constitutional Assembly, a non-government organisation drumming up support for a people-driven constitution, said the teachers’ strike reflected the general chaotic situation in Zimbabwe under Mugabe.

Mudzengi said the country was in a virtual state of collapse and this was being exposed by the teachers’ strike, which he said had closed schools countrywide.

“The strike is a reflection of the chaotic situation in the country where the agriculture, financial, health and transport sectors have collapsed,” he said. “The solution suggested by SADC will not work as it fails to address the real problem, which is the absence of democracy. SADC has failed and the teachers’ strike shows that.”

Majongwe, the secretary general of PTUZ, urged SADC countries to prepare for an unprecedented influx of teachers and pupils in the next few weeks as they flee Zimbabwe’s economic mess. “Some parents are already looking for vacancies for their children in neighbouring countries, where schools are functioning properly,” he said. “SADC countries should brace themselves for an influx of children. The SADC leaders are the architects of the Zimbabwean problem.”

Jabu Shoko is the pseudonym of an IWPR-trained reporter in Zimbabwe.