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Zimbabwe struggles continue

NASUWT attends 2015 PTUZ Conference

NASUWT continued its longstanding support of trade unions in Zimbabwe by attending the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) National Policy Conference in Harare.

The Union’s Junior Vice President Fred Brown and Website Coordinator Tariq Arafa joined 200 delegates from the host nation and from across Africa to share experiences about education and trade unionism in their respective countries under the theme “Education Under Siege”. Mr Brown delivered a keynote address in which he said it was “a huge honour” to be invited to an event that was so critical to the development of education on the continent.

Teachers in Zimbabwe share many of the concerns of their British counterparts such as salaries, pupil indiscipline and teacher recruitment. But the threats facing them as trade unionists are considerably more menacing. The PTUZ General Secretary and President have been arrested and tortured 36 times and ordered to denounce the organisations they represent. Yet in the face of such brutality, they have refused to relent.

‘Collective begging not bargaining’

In an interview with NASUWT, President Takavafira Zhou said: “Teaching is not a profession in Zimbabwe. The regulations that we are using are crafted by the employer without input from teachers. The government does not respect teachers. It sees teachers as the enemy not as opinion-makers and pace-setters. It doesn’t respect collective bargaining, engagement and consultation of teachers. Throughout the world the ILO is very clear about collective bargaining but in Zimbabwe there is collective begging. The Government has let loose its public service officials to run a reign of terror in schools where their actions are not backed by legislation but merely products of wishful thinking to the extent where teachers cannot access their pay during the week, only weekends. Pay is not a privilege, it’s a right. Our own government is reducing the education budget from about 14% to about 9% so there is no political will in relation to the development of the education system. The government does not respect trade unions imposing policies without consultation. Above all there is a serious anomaly where the government does not respect its own constitution. It discriminates particularly against trainee teachers. Trainee nurses and soldiers still receive their full pay but teachers’ pay has been cut by half.”

President Zhou also lamented the lack of consultation over curriculum reform with political game-playing winning over the needs of teachers and pupils. “It is tailor-made to ensure that the government of the day wins votes. For example, they want to introduce youth militia training whereby all 318,000 learners must go for propaganda training in the army barracks, in the prison service depots and hospitals. We don’t know what the students will be doing in the army barracks instead of furthering their education but it is clear the whole aim is looking at the 2018 elections where Zanu PF peddle their propaganda.”

He referred to the “yellow trade unions” that existed in Zimbabwe – unions that are an appendage to the government, saying: “The government is propping up these unions giving them state-of-the-art cars, giving them access to schools. With legitimate trade unions like us, they constantly send surveillance to our offices. Teachers don’t have the freedom to teach in schools. If you teach about Hitler’s Germany, you are misconstrued to be teaching about today’s government so you get arrested, beaten and persecuted. The environment is not conducive to teaching and learning.”

Amid these obstacles to a thriving union movement in Zimbabwe, President Zhou thanked NASUWT for its unstinting support of his Union: “Our relationship with the NASUWT has been superb. We have been assisted in terms of understanding the broader concept of trade unionism. This involves the concept of lobbying the government and other pertinent issues such as women. NASUWT has ensured that every time we are brutalised in Zimbabwe they send messages of solidarity. They have appealed to EI who has written letters to the President of the country demanding that our sovereignty must be guaranteed. They have globalised our struggles so that we are in a better state to engage the government and our own members.”

LGBT issues under the spotlight

The treatment of LGBT teachers in Zimbabwe remains a highly divisive in a country where homosexuality is not just illegal but a taboo of society. The conference focused not just on LGBT teachers but also learners in a motion that stated:

“LGBT learners have a sense of alienation and confusion as well as overwhelming negative messages about homosexuality in their home and school environments. They face various degrees of denial and acceptance, extreme social, legal and institutional discrimination within society.

Due to homophobia in society, adolescents who are struggling with issues of sexual orientation face incredible challenges and lack many of the fundamental support systems available to their heterosexual peers. The classroom is largely viewed as the most homophobic of all social institutions.”

After a highly charged debate, PTUZ members voted that more research be conducted on LGBT issues before a decision could be taken on the level of support offered to them.

World Teachers' Day

NASUWT has produced classroom resource about Zimbabwe to mark World Teachers' Day on 5 October.

Vigil for democracy outside the Zimbabwe Embassy

 

The NASUWT has a “moral and ethical duty” to continue to fight for justice and human rights in Zimbabwe, the Union’s Deputy General Secretary has insisted.

At a democracy vigil outside the Zimbabwe Embassy, Dr Patrick Roach said the campaign for human rights in the country was “as alive today as it has ever been.”

He was speaking as NASUWT members joined trade unionists, activists and members of the Zimbabwean community in the UK to protest against the brutal violence of President Robert Mugabe’s regime in the African country.

Around 50 protesters waving placards and singing protest songs voiced their strong opposition to the continuing violence and called for free elections.

The protest was held on the third anniversary of Zimbabwe’s “run off” election when Mugabe’s Zanu PF party ran a campaign of violence, including mass rape, in a desperate bid to retain power.

Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) presented more than 1,300 petition cards to the embassy and Dr Roach and others laid them outside the embassy with red roses, often used as a symbol of peaceful protest in Zimbabwe.

Dr Roach said: “The campaign for human rights, democracy and social justice is as alive today in Zimbabwe as it has ever been.

“The fact of the matter is as a result of the Mugabe regime thousands of ordinary people including trade unionists are being oppressed in Zimbabwe and any voice of opposition is being repressed.

“We have a moral duty and an ethical duty as a teaching trade union here in the UK to stand up for justice for Zimbabwean teachers and for Zimbabwean civil society.”

Nqobizitha Moyo, who came to the protest from the Midlands, taught agriculture in Zimbabwe before fleeing to the UK.

He explained some of the difficulties teachers face in the country: “I had to leave Zimbabwe because of the violence against teachers.

“The problems faced by the teaching profession in Zimbabwe include very low salaries, and violence…you couldn’t demonstrate freely because of the violence.

“When teaching you had to teach without any tools for the children, there were no spares because of the financial situation.

In sweltering heat the protesters sung songs calling for the removal of Robert Mugabe as well as chants demanding an end to violence by Zanu PF supporters, widely regarded as thugs controlled by the Mugabe apparatus.

After the symbolic laying of roses the protesters poignantly sang God Bless Africa before a final uplifting chant. Many of the Zimbabwean activists had come from cities as far afield as Exeter, Leicester and Nottingham, as well as across London.

 

Zimbabwe Teachers Face Fresh Political Violence

Reports from Harare at the start of November confirm that Zimbabwe's teachers are facing serious political threats and violent attacks.

The Progress Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president, Raymond Majongwe, told a press conference in Harare on Tuesday that his organisation had received reports of teachers being victimized since the day President Robert Mugabe announced that elections could take place next year.

Six teachers from Gwangwava Primary School in Rushinga were recently forcibly transferred to other schools in Bindura after war veterans and Zanu PF supporters said they did not want the teachers in their community.

According to Majongwe, PTUZ feared for the teachers' lives because the district education office in Bindura, working in cahoots with the war veterans, transferred the six to Zanu PF strongholds so that they could 'fix' them.

"We want to put on record as an organisation that the situation in and around schools is starting to disturb us," Majongwe said.

He said teachers were being victimised at a time when the GNU (Government of National Unity) was showing obvious signs of cracks. He said Zanu PF
supporters led by war veterans had threatened to cleanse the Mashonaland province of any members of the PTUZ."

"We don't need this. It is unnecessary and uncalled for," Majongwe said. "What we have is a serious challenge around the failure by government to
address teachers' salaries."

"This election that is coming will not solve any problems facing teachers, in fact the election will increase grave yards and orphans."

Majongwe said his organisation had written to Education minister, David Coltart to intervene. They were also planning to approach Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai so he can talk to President Robert Mugabe to convince his supporters to end the teachers' victimisation.

Dr Patrick Roach, Deputy General Secretary of the NASUWT, said:

“The NASUWT is deeply concerned by the continuing attacks on teachers in Zimbabwe. We stand in solidarity with the PTUZ in calling for these politically motivated attacks on teachers to stop now and the NASUWT has written to the Zimbabwe High Commission setting out our concerns and calling for immediate action to protect the safety of PTUZ members.”

Zimbabwe teachers, especially in rural areas, have over the years been the target of political violence by war veterans and Zanu PF supporters who accuse them of supporting the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The situation saw hordes of Zimbabwe's teachers running away to neighbouring countries like South Africa, Botswana and to countries overseas.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) has claimed that liberation war veterans in the country are forcing its members to join ZANU(PF) and to attend party meetings during working hours.

Takavafira Zhou of the militant union said he was shocked to learn that hundreds of teachers in Masvingo and Midlands provinces were being forced to pay USD25 or buy goats as punishment for late confirmation of their membership to the former ruling party. "We have learnt with shock that our members are being victimised by Zanu(PF) thugs for not joining the party. We have overwhelming evidence to prove the allegations", said Zhou.

Those found without party membership cards are severely punished and some forced to buy goats which are usually taken by the party heavyweights.

Schools in Bikita and Zaka districts in Masvingo are the most affected as war veterans leader and Zanu(PF) foot soldier Jabulani Sibanda together with Chief Nhema are forcing teachers to abandon lectures and attend political rallies. 

"It's a shame that in some areas such as Zaka and Bikita, teachers are forced to leave schools to attend political rallies. Already their salaries are not enough and they are fined if they are found without party cards, Zhou told Radio VOP. RadioVOP was informed that teachers at Cheziya High School and Gombo Primary in Gokwe and Mabika areas in Mberengwa and some in Masvingo were affected.

Zhou promised to take the matter to the responsible ministers in government.

Meanwhile MDC supporters in Masvingo continue to live in fear as the campaign of intimidation by war veterans leader Sibanda rages on.Sibanda, a former Zipra cadre believed to be in Emmerson Munangagwa,s camp has been accused of spearheading a campaign of terror aimed at instilling fear among villagers there. He is reportedly working with chiefs in the province. Police have turned a blind eye to his activities as Sibanda is believed to have the backing of party heavyweights and the Big Man himself.

ZANU(PF) Masvingo provincial chairman Lovemore Matuke denied that teachers in the province were forced to join the party.He said they were joining 'willingly'. However when contacted for comment Provincial Education Director (PED) Ms Clara Dube said she needed more time to investigate the issue.

Head commits suicide

The head of Mukomberanwa Secondary School near Chaka Business Centre allegedly committed suicide after an intense conflict with parents over suspected abuse of money meant for teacher incentives.

The Programmes and Communications Officer of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), Oswald Makomborero Madziva said: "While the union does not condone abuse of public funds, the eclipse of misery and deprivation in the teachers is driving them into the devil's workshop."

"This is just but one of the cases of the vertical and horizontal conflicts which teachers are experiencing in the schools. Schools have become a war zone between parents and teachers with corrupt school development committees and school heads lining their pockets.

"The PTUZ firmly believes in one war to end all wars - a decisive and issue laden strike action."

The death of the headmaster identified only as a Mr Mashamba was closely linked to a meeting which was convened by the School Development Committee and attended by parents, the local councillor and some police details. At the meeting parents were reported to have demanded a financial report on how the school used the money which parents paid for incentives for teachers.

It is alleged that teachers at the school were never paid incentives despite the $US10 termly contribution per child which parents paid towards school levies. Allegations were that Mashamba failed to give a satisfactory explanation and the bitter parents threatened to report the matter to the police.

A day after the meeting, Mashamba travelled to his rural home in Gutu where he allegedly took poison and died.

The PTUZ said it was saddened by this development which epitomises the union's year old argument that incentives will work against teachers.

Teachers in Zimbabwe, like most civil servants, are earning about US$160. They want this increased to US$600 a month.

Resources

NASUWT has provided considerable resource support for the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ).

More than 5,000 teachers have been beaten, about 600 hospitalised and 231 teachers' houses burnt, the union says.

Raymond Majongwe, PTUZ secretary general, says the number of teachers being attacked is growing by the day and as a result the quality of education is suffering.

"The same teachers that are being pushed around and being beaten are no longer going to be giving their best," he said.

"They will be looking over their shoulder every other time to see who is present, who is coming and who is advancing," he said, describing their fear.

Zimbabwe's education system, once the envy of the region, has recorded its "worst year", he said.

"I think if education could be described as being in hospital, it would be in an intensive care unit," he said.

For the Zimbabwe Election Commission, the massive displacement of teachers could prove a headache ahead of the planned presidential run-off on 27 June.

Polling officers from different sectors will need to be recruited and trained.