100,000 Zimbabwe teachers strike today against poverty pay

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Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) march – teachers begin an indefinite strike today
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) march – teachers begin an indefinite strike today

ZIMBABWE’S teaching unions are striking for better salaries from today, Tuesday, with 100,000 expected to join the action. Most Zimbabweans, already struggling to put food on the table, rely on the cheaper public schools for their children’s education and the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) and the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) are demanding ‘meaningful’ salaries.

The average public school teacher’s salary is $100, using black market exchange rates relied on by most businesses. Zimbabwe’s public education sector was once one of the best in Africa but the economy has collapsed in recent years.

Teachers’ union leaders have reportedly received anonymous death threats as they push for a nationwide strike against poor working conditions. In an interview with Newsday, PTUZ president Takavafira Zhou declared that teachers have nothing to fear.

He said: ‘The merchants of violence have resorted to threats directed against PTUZ leadership, with threats that they can burn us in our homes at night. ‘Most of the threats are directed at secretary-general, Raymond Majongwe, with some such claiming to be untouchables.

‘Our message is very clear, that we do not eat threats. We have nothing to fear except fear itself.’ Majongwe said: ‘Necessary measures have been taken to report the cases against these rogue elements, some of whom claim to be connected to a notorious Chegutu politician.

‘Let it be known that you don’t shoot at the messenger, but at the message.

‘Our message is clear – that teachers are starving. ‘Anyone who doubts this must visit a teacher’s house and his/her children. ‘No amount of threats and vilification will stop PTUZ leaders from amplifying the legitimate labour demands by teachers.’

Teachers have resolved to break ranks with the rest of the civil service. While other government workers have developed cold feet over embarking on industrial action, teachers have decided to go on strike starting this week.

The government’s refusal to raise the 18 per cent salary increment that it offered civil servants has divided the unions under the Apex Council. On one hand, the PTUZ and Zimta have decided to go on strike while on the other hand, unions representing government officers and other technical staff have not yet resolved to embark on industrial action.

There have been accusations and counter-accusations among the unions with teachers accusing some in the Apex Council of being government agents. Teachers have been accused of being used by opposition political parties and donors. While speaking after the National Joint Negotiating Council meeting, which failed to deliver a fresh deal for civil servants in Harare last Wednesday, PTUZ secretary-general Majongwe said: ‘We are talking about incapacitation here.

‘We are talking about not being able to send our children to school because we do not have money. ‘But we are ashamed that some of our members are busy talking the intelligence language of government, it is bad.’

Zimta chief executive officer Sifiso Ndlovu said of the civil servants’ union leaders: ‘What our colleagues are doing is rubbish. ‘It shows that they are not membership-driven. When it comes to labour issues, they instead, serve their selfish interest.

‘We are going on strike starting February 5th and we have followed the law.’

Meanwhile, in support of the struggles of Zimbabwean workers, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) last Friday picketed the Zimbabwean Embassy in Abuja, demanding the immediate and unconditional release of leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade unions arrested while protesting against the increase in the prices of fuel a fortnight ago.

President of the Nigeria Labour Congress Ayuba Wabba, who led the workers, said if the Zimbabwean government refuses to release the union leaders, workers across the world will be mobilised to shut down Zimbabwean embassies across the world. Wabba, who is also the president of the International Trade Union (ITUC), asked the United Nations to invoke relevant international conventions to protect the rights of workers in Zimbabwe.

He said ITUC and the Nigeria Labour Congress will petition the International Court of Justice to protest against the violation of human rights in that country and the violence that followed the peaceful protest by the workers. Wabba also asked the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the African Union to invoke relevant labour conventions in dealing with the issue in Zimbabwe, adding that it was an irony that the same government which the labour union fought for is the one hunting down labour leaders.

He said organised labour in Nigeria will not hesitate to seal up the embassy in Abuja if the Zimbabwean government fails to adhere to their calls and release the detained labour leaders in that country. Wabba called on the Zimbabwean government to release the detained leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and 39 others arrested for participating in strikes and protest marches over the fuel price increase.

Wabba said that the NLC has followed with a sense of outrage the ugly incidents that have trailed the mass protests in Zimbabwe, adding that the protest was occasioned by the sudden increase pump prices of petroleum products by the government of Zimbabwe.

He said: ‘The protest is against what many Zimbabweans perceive as insensitive policy choices by the government of Zimbabwe. ‘The Nigerian working class family is sad that what should have passed as a civil action in democratic climes was met with disproportionate use of force by the Zimbabwean military and security forces.

‘The brazen show of force culminated in widespread suppression and violation of the fundamental human rights of ordinary Zimbabweans, who were exposed to an orgy of violence, bloodshed and acts of state cruelty. ‘The NLC is particularly concerned about allegations of home raids, killings, rapes, robbery and physical assaults against workers, women, children and civilians generally, during the so-called crackdown on protests by the Zimbabwean security forces.’

  • A UK legislator has urged the international community to put on hold engagement efforts with Zimbabwe and called for the imposition of a travel ban on President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Kate Hoey, chair of the UK all-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe, said that the international community cannot ignore what is happening in Zimbabwe. Speaking in the House of Commons last week, she said: ‘The international community should suspend any initiatives relating to reengagement with the Zimbabwean government.

‘It is unacceptable in my view to be even talking about debt restructuring and private sector investment while so many Zimbabwean civilians are being assaulted and killed.

‘We are calling for the end of the deployment of the military, they have to go back into their barracks.

‘We have to get the United Nations to make a very strong statement on the rule of law.

‘We need to call for an independent investigation of the human rights violations to be led by African Union or United Nations.‘We have to get to who gave the orders.

‘It was the same with the people killed after the elections where we never got to the bottom of who gave the army orders. ‘The government’s brutal crackdown on demonstrators who were protesting against poverty and economic hardship has received widespread condemnation.’