Hopes were raised when Zimbabwe’s new Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, promised that all civil servants, including teachers, would be paid in foreign currency by the end of February.
At an inaugural celebration in Harare, Tsvangirai said: “As Prime Minister, I make this commitment that as from the end of this month our professionals in the civil service, every health worker, teacher, soldier and policeman will receive their pay in foreign currency until we are able to stabilize the economy. These hard currency salaries enable people to go to work, feed families and to survive.”
Further to this statement it is reported that the Prime Minister encouraged teachers and other government employees to report for duty.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions expressed optimism: “We are delighted that civil servants are now included in this category. Originally it was required that civil servants be paid allowances in food vouchers. A food voucher does not pay for school fees, health care, rentals and transport fares,” ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo emphasized at a press conference on 12 February.
The same day, EI’s affiliate the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (ZIMTA) issued a statement which posed important questions for teachers. “Clearly the statement shows commitment to resolve the crisis in education. However, the statement will need to be followed up with implementation modalities that will address questions like how much will be paid? How will the money be paid? What are the timelines for the salaries?”
These questions point to the fact that since September 2008, teachers have been unable to perform their duties. Earlier, teachers were intimidated by officials and school administrators invoking legal provisions to force them back to work by 9 February.
“Teachers should not fear the piece of legislation that does not bring food to the table,” said ZIMTA President Tendai Chikowore. “If names are demanded for people who are failing to go to work, let us all submit our names without fear and if we are to be fired, let us all be fired, for we have not been surviving on these salaries. We are as good as fired.”
“In case we are misunderstood, let us be clear,” Chikowore added. “Teachers and ZIMTA, their union, are ready to go back to work, but not on promises that are not backed by practical action and interventions. A process of engagement with the incoming Administration must be on priority so as to address the education crisis urgently.”
A meeting of the National Joint Negotiating Council is scheduled for 18 February.
EI’s other affiliate, the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), expressed concern at the continued deterioration of education standards, noting that June and November 2008 O and A level, Grade 7 examinations results have not yet been released.
“The poor are the worst affected as their children cannot afford to sit for other external examinations. The threat by the Education Permanent Secretary that temporary teachers will be engaged if striking teachers do not return to work does not solve the problem in any way but, instead, worsens it,” said Raymond Majongwe, General Secretary of the PTUZ. “We demand that government take a holistic approach to solving problems in the education sector and avert further flight of remaining skills.”
Generally, trade unions have also asked the new government to “bury authoritarian rule and replace it with a democratic governance system.” The ZCTU called upon the political parties, both ZANU PF and MDC, to forge a sustained alliance that leads to political tolerance. “The current government must be transitional in form and content, leading to a new constitution, followed by free, fair and credible elections supervised by the United Nations,” says the ZCTU statement.