BY VANESSA GONYE
ACTING President Constantino Chiwenga yesterday hinted that non-examination classes might open for the first term in three weeks’ time, depending on the prevailing COVID-19 situation in the country at the time.
In a statement where he extended the level 2 lockdown by a further two weeks, Chiwenga, who took over as Acting President in place of his boss Emmerson Mnangagwa who is on his annual vacation until February 5, said: “Schools (will) be given at least one week after the next two weeks lockdown extension, to put preventive public health measures in place before the commencement of the general school calendar depending on the prevailing COVID-19 situation at the time.”
He urged teachers and eligible students to vaccinate against the respiratory disease.
“The provincial taskforce teams are exhorted to strengthen their efforts of mobilising all those eligible to be vaccinated; members of the public are encouraged to wear face masks, sanitise, wash hands with soap and avoid crowds and gatherings, especially when not wearing face masks while having meals and drinks,” said Chiwenga, who is also Health and Child Care minister.
The school calendar has been distorted for the past two years as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.
Schools were initially supposed to open on January 10 for the first term, before government ordered only examination students to physically attend class as COVID-19 cases were on the rise.
Teachers unions welcomed the delay in the reopening of schools, but urged government to provide adequate preventive measures, including improving educators’ working conditions before the rest of the students return to class.
Manuel Nyawo, the chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe National Teachers Union, said the delay was necessary to give educators time to push for better salaries.
“It is a very welcome development considering that we were not ready to open schools and we were not ready to set our foot in schools given that we don’t have money for transport and to cater for our welfare and for our children,” he said.
“The extension, therefore, is going to allow us to further press for a living wage. We will not be motivated even after the end of the extended period to go back to the classroom with nothing having been added to our salaries, which we are demanding in US currency.”
Said Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Takavafira Zhou: “What is worrisome is that there seems to be no urgency to address the outstanding issues. So there is no guarantee that the continuous extension is tailor-made to resolve outstanding issues connected to US$540, a considerable number of sector-specific allowances and prioritisation of health and safety of teachers, pupils and ancillary staff.”
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union secretary-general Robson Chere said the Primary and Secondary Education ministry should use the extended school holidays to address critical safety issues related to COVID-19.
“It is a matter of misplaced priorities on the part of the government since we have seen them gathering crowds doing internal political elections yet they close schools,” he said.