HARARE, Zimbabwe — A teachers’ strike has paralyzed learning at many Zimbabwean schools, which opened this week after a prolonged closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Harare, some schools opened on Thursday, while others were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unions say that a handful of teachers showed up for work, but they did not teach at other schools. The strike was deemed “unjustified conduct”, which is denying children their right to education.
The government has suspended without pay all striking teachers for three months, Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Evelyn Ndlovu announced Thursday.
Many teachers decided to stay at home to protest salaries of about $100 a month. They are demanding that their pay be increased to about $500 per month.
In 2018, teachers earned the equivalent of about $540 a month but that amount has been eroded by years of inflation, currently estimated at 60%, and the devaluation of Zimbabwe’s currency.
In response, the government has offered a 20% pay increase, payment of part of the teachers’ salaries in U.S. dollars, and subsidies on the purchases of cars and houses. In response, the government threatened to reduce salaries for those who do not report for duty.
Unions rejected the offer from the government, claiming that the proposed raise in pay is too small. Officials from the union said that they are unsure if the government will fulfill its promises to cheaper housing and duty-free importation. This was owing to the previous failures. Teachers cannot even afford cars with subsidies, they said.
“Teachers have been reduced to paupers, they are living in poverty. Obert Masaraure of Zimbabwe’s vocal Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union said that teachers cannot afford school fees at the schools they teach. They need nearly eight months’ salary to cover school fees. He said that teachers are eager to send their child to school.
Zimbabwe has about 140,000 government school teachers for 4.6 million students.
The southern African country closed schools for almost 6 months when it detected its first COVID-19 case in March 2020. Schools have been closed intermittently since then due to the pandemic, sometimes for long periods.
Classes were supposed to start in January but the government, citing the surge of omicron cases, only reopened schools this week, following intense pressure from people tired of keeping children at home or without money to pay for online lessons.
In Chitungwiza, a working-class center about 30 kilometers (18 miles) southeast of the capital, Harare, schools were eerily quiet, with no sign of teachers or pupils.
At some schools, the classrooms were locked. One school had a handful of children playing soccer in the overgrown grass. While some slept on school grounds, others returned to their homes.
Parents got riled but most said that they understand the teacher’s plight.
“We are just coming out of lockdowns and now the schools are open but no learning is taking place. Edmore Chise is a parent.
” “The government must respect teachers. These teachers have families and they have to also pay school fees for themselves,” he stated, as he dropped his daughter off at school in central Harare.
Security guards measured the temperature of the masked students, and they proceeded under running water to clean their hands. According to the vaccine mandate, all government workers must have their shots in order to allow them to work at stations.
The teachers’ demand for higher pay comes as many other Zimbabweans struggle with widespread poverty. After years of economic decline and the collapse of many businesses offering formal employment, more than 60% of Zimbabwe’s 15 million people survive by selling goods on the streets, offering services from their homes or are otherwise self-employed, according to the International Monetary Fund.
More than half the population lives in extreme poverty exacerbated by COVID-19, according to a joint survey by the government, the World Bank and the United Nations children’s agency.
Grocery shops and other services, such as water and electricity that must be bought privately, require payment in U.S. dollars. Due to the shortage of hard currency at banks, teachers and civil servants have to purchase greenbacks from unlicensed traders in order to pay for these necessities.
The latest disruption is worsening the situation of children, especially ones from poor families already devastated by the pandemic, said Masaraure, the union leader. Only a small number of people had access to online education when schools closed. He said that the learners had missed learning. There is an academic genocide. We are losing a whole generation that is now engaged in child marriages because they can’t be in school.”