UNION leaders said yesterday that they had overcome the fear of security forces to record a “successful” strike, as teachers began a massive industrial action countrywide over pay demands and the improvement of their working conditions.
The Zimbabwe Teachers Union (Zimta) — by far the country’s biggest civil servants’ union — and the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) said their calls for a mega strike had been heeded by their membership in both urban and rural areas despite alleged threats by security forces.
PTUZ secretary-general Raymond Majongwe told the Daily News that he was “pleased to report that the stay-away over salaries is very successful in all areas”.
“Teachers have responded in their numbers to express their dissatisfaction over their salaries. In Chikomba, for example, almost 90 percent of teachers are away from work. The same scenario is also shared by Mudzi, Mutoko and Seke.
“Other areas reported a stay-away of around 20 percent on average, attributed to fear and those places without unions … the action has also started with no incident so far recorded, except cases of party vehicles and security agents who are making unannounced visits.
“Our hope is that government will come up with a competitive offer to allow for normal learning … otherwise, we urge all our members to be in their homes relaxing with their kids,” Majongwe said.
On its part, Zimta urged its members to “stay safe in the face of intimidation” by suspected security forces.
“Please stay home and be safe. Don’t be intimidated by police and CIOs (Central Intelligence Organisation agents),” Zimta said in a message sent to its members.
Teachers and other civil servants have been pressing for improved pay and better working conditions, in the light of falling living standards and the crumbling local economy.
They are demanding a minimum wage of $1 300 a month for the least paid worker, or to be paid the equivalent in United States dollars.
Government has twice unsuccessfully tried to avert the strike by dangling incentives which have been rejected outright by the striking teachers.
Meanwhile, and despite the claims of intimidation and fears of reprisals following a recent crackdown against protesters by police and soldiers, virtually all the provinces reported that many teachers had heeded the strike call, or simply chose not to teach even if they reported at their schools.
In Bulawayo, schools in the central business district and high density suburbs were turning away children as early as 9 am.
At Sobukhazi Secondary School, only eight teachers were present out of the usual complement of 78, with those in attendance embarking on a sit in.
Similarly at Mzilikazi Primary and Secondary schools, teachers chose to stay away and it was the same situation at Milton, Robert Tredgold and Coughlan primary schools where children were sent back home in the morning.
In Manicaland, most schools reported less-than-usual staff complements — with one school in Chiadzwa suffering the ignominy of having only the headmaster in attendance.
However, Manicaland deputy provincial education director, Clara Kanoerera, still claimed that the strike had not been successful.
“Our schools are functioning and our teachers are on duty as of today,” she told the Daily News.