BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA/GARIKAI MAFIRAKUREVA
TEACHERS unions have demanded an apology from the government following remarks by Primary and Secondary Education secretary Tumisang Thabela that educators who could not afford to travel back to their workplaces should borrow money.
They said the government was mocking them for being broke when it was failing to pay reasonable salaries which have resulted in some of them failing to travel to their respective workplaces.
At a post-Cabinet media briefing on Tuesday, Thabela admitted that not all teachers have been attending classes since schools reopened for the second term last week.
She said only 70% of teachers had turned up, adding that there were two unnamed provinces where attendance was even lower.
Prior to reopening of schools, the unions urged government to increase their salaries. They are demanding that government reverts to the pre-October 2018 salaries of between US$520 and US$550 or the equivalent in local currency.
But on Tuesday, Thabela asked the broke teachers to borrow money so that they could travel to their workplaces, a statement which sparked wide public criticism yesterday.
“From our daily check of attendance for the previous week, the number of teachers who were coming as compared to the number we are expecting was over 70%. There is one or two (provinces) which are still depressed but generally, we are over 70%. So those who are supposed to not have enough money or whatever (sic), we are hoping that by the end of next week, they would have borrowed enough money to go back to work,” Thabela said before she broke into laughter.
Teachers were outraged by Thabela’s statement, and dismissed her claims that 70% of teachers were attending classes, saying the true figure was under 35%.
“When a whole profession is reduced to this, how do we inspire our kids?” Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe retorted in response to Thabela.
“Why reduce us to beggars? We are a joke. The damage is colossal.”
Zimbabwe National Teachers Union chief executive Manuel Nyawo said teachers would not borrow on behalf of the employer, but would continue demanding improved working conditions and higher salaries.
“The unfortunate, damaging, insulting, provocative and misplaced remarks by the Permanent Secretary cannot go unchallenged,” Nyawo said.
“This behaviour smacks of an individual or individuals who have no feelings for the teachers as they care less about us. How can we borrow to be able to go to work? Is it not evidence that confirms our declared position of incapacitation? We are more than seriously incapacitated as confirmed by the Permanent Secretary who turned into a trade unionist before Cabinet.
“The Permanent Secretary must never forget that she is one of us and must always speak for us. Next time she appears before Cabinet, she must tell them that the bulk of the teachers countrywide are not teaching, but seated in disgruntlement. Teachers must be paid what they deserve.”
The Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) said Thabela’ remarks had exposed the government’s incompetence and lack of willingness to address their concerns.
“Artuz has noted with deep concern and utter shock the lies being peddled by a high ranking government official, the Permanent Secretary of Primary and Secondary Education, Madam Thabela, who blatantly lied through her teeth to the nation and indeed to herself by conjuring up fictitious figures on teacher attendance,” Artuz said in a statement.
The teacher union said Thabela’s 70% figure was utopian, claiming very few teachers were at their work stations.
Thabela refused to comment on the matter when NewsDay contacted her.
“All communications are directed to the ministry spokesperson,” she said.