Many teachers in Zimbabwe are struggling to survive as their salaries have plummeted to less than a quarter of their previous value in just a few months.
Dr Takavafira Zhou, President of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), spoke about the desperate situation of his members in an interview with International Solidarity.
Citizens were hoping for a brighter future when former President Robert Mugabe was deposed in 2017, but for some life has got even harder since Emmerson Mnangagwa took over.
Zimbabwe’s economy is in crisis with many companies closing, unemployment reaching a record 92 per cent and inflation spiralling upwards.
Dr Zhou said: “Teachers’ salaries have been greatly eroded by inflation and payment in bonds. The basic salary, plus transport and housing allowances, ranged from about US$350 to US$400 before October 2018.
“However, following the October inflation and dual currencies, the teacher’s salary has been reduced to less than the equivalent of US$100.
“Teachers have been grossly incapacitated as they cannot afford the increase in transport cost, accommodation, food, school fees and medication.”
Many teachers also have to work in extremely difficult conditions with poor school facilities, large class numbers and inadequate teaching materials, Dr Zhou said.
Major investment is needed to provide children in Zimbabwe with a decent education, but the government’s current austerity measures are making matters even worse.
Dr Zhou said: “Infrastructure in many schools has remained rudimentary with many students in the resettlement areas learning under a tree – 38 years after independence.
“The teacher-pupil ratio has remained very high, with some teaching bloated classes of 103 each, or two composite classes of a total of 130 pupils.
“Teaching material has not been delivered to schools following the introduction of a new curriculum, and teachers have formed subject area networks to share whatever material they can source from the internet.
“Under the influence of austerity measures, the government has suspended recruitment of new teachers and there are vacancies for about 20 000 teachers.”
Many of Zimbabwe’s best students are reluctant to go into teacher training because of the low wages, austerity measures and a lack of respect for the profession.
Meanwhile, droves of qualified teachers are migrating to other countries such as Namibia, Botswana and South Africa where working conditions are better.
PUTZ is trying to support members who want to carry on teaching in Zimbabwe with some innovative programmes. It is helping them set up small businesses to increase their income and continues to campaign for better trade union and human rights.
The current regime restricts freedom of association and freedom of assembly, and is still flouting teachers’ rights to collective bargaining that are enshrined in the 2013 National Constitution.
It perceives the PTUZ as a front for the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), because of its stance on the critical need to restore the status of teachers.
Despite the union’s best efforts, Dr Zhou fears for the future of his members and the quality of education in his country.
“Zimbabwe is destined to sink deeper and deeper into malaise, terror and poverty that would greatly affect salaries and conditions of service for teachers and the education system,” he said.
“Whatever resources amassed by the elites will be invested in power retention rather than in educational delivery.”