HARARE – Genuine teachers’ unions should take it upon themselves to build teacher consciousness on the role of trade unions, Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) president Obert Masaraure has said, adding that government should urgently set up an education equalisation fund.
Our staff writer, Blessings Mashaya, recently spoke to Masaraure about the plight of rural teachers and below are some excerpts from the interview.
Q: Can you highlight the plight of rural teachers?
A: The patriotic teachers who are passionately giving education to sons and daughters of peasant farmers in rural communities are being neglected by those running our country. We have teachers sleeping in disused tobacco barns who also walk for up to 5km to fetch a bucket of unsafe drinking water.
The same teachers walk for up to 20km to get transport to their respective banks on pay day. A teacher in Malipati recently bemoaned the fact that he has no teaching material, teaches under a tree and the learners come to school hungry. As if this is not enough, rural teachers also endure violence and intimidation from political actors especially the youth brigade and war veterans element of the Zanu PF party.
One teacher from Karoi once jokingly told our research team that if you survive the marauding wild animals in the region you will still have to face the vicious youth brigade of Zanu PF, in short your life is always in danger.
Q: What do you think government can do to improve the welfare of rural teachers?
A: The government should urgently set up an education equalisation fund. The fund should receive money from our mineral wealth, tax revenue and progressive international developmental partners.
The collected revenue will be channelled to infrastructure development in our rural schools. Secondly, the government should introduce a substantial rural retention and attraction allowance. The allowance will go a long way in keeping experienced and competent teachers in rural schools thus improving the quality of education discharged in such schools.
Models of attracting teachers to rural schools can be borrowed from Mozambique, Swaziland and Mexico. Lastly, the government should guarantee the safety of learners in schools. To show commitment to safe schools Zimbabwe should endorse the safe schools declaration. Artuz congratulates Cameroon for being the 81st country to endorse the safe schools regulations on the 10th of September 2018.
Q: As a union how many members do you have?
A: The union boasts of over 35 000 members stationed across the country.
Q: What is your take on the newly-appointed Primary and Secondary Education minister?
A: The personalities appointed don’t really matter, what we need is radical policy shift in our education system. Government should fund basic education as prescribed in the constitution. The line ministry of education should also facilitate the co-creation of a working curriculum gathering input from all education stakeholders.
Teacher upgrading should also be impartially expedited to ensure that teachers who have upgraded their qualifications are rewarded for it. The on-going teacher professional council initiative which is wrongly framed and constituted must be discarded and we move to a teacher-driven initiative. Lastly, the minister must divorce himself from the toxic culture of only consulting government sweetheart unions ignoring the voice of dissent from teacher-oriented unions like us.
Q: It appears that there are many teachers’ unions, what do you think can be done to unite all of them?
A: It is imperative that the few genuine unions should take it upon themselves to build teacher consciousness on the role of trade unions. As soon as teachers become conscious they will dump government sweetheart unions.
Most teachers are funding their own exploitation by subscribing to the proxies of employers who masquerade as unions. When there is no ideological grounding of organisations new outfits will continue to mushroom. Our mandate as a union of fighting for pro poor education is no duplication of any of the existing outfits, but duplicity is apparent in the bulk of these other unions whose primary mandate is to fleece teachers of their hard earned income.
Q: Some say your union is aligned to opposition parties, is this a fair assertion?
A: We agree with Zanu PF on the need to build more schools which they aptly captured in their manifesto, the opposition agree with us on the need for safe schools and ensuring that teachers are not disenfranchised during voting cycle.
We don’t realign our principles to aid any party to achieve its goals and we will not negate our mandate because it’s viewed to be pro-opposition. We have a clear vision and programme of action. We will not go off route to suit anyone.
Q: You are demanding government to increase your salaries, what will be your next move, if government fails to take heed of this demand and do you have timelines on when you expect this issue to be addressed?
A: The working class has never failed to deal with employers who fail to pay a living wage. The union is engaged in both intra and inter union discussions on a collectively shared concrete way forward on this critical issue.
This time around the government will witness an unprecedented backlash from employees if they fail to meet our demands. We are now a mature union with five years of experience in the deep end of radical trade unionism. November exam calendar may end up being a casualty of government failure.
Q: You complained about political intimidation how many cases have you received so far?
A: Our research department had captured over 100 cases by 31 August with the most chilling one being a phone call to one of our leaders based in Gutu, Lawrence Mapengo who was threatened with death by unknown callers.
Q: Do you think President Emmerson Mnangagwa can solve your problems?
A: Again it has never been about personalities, it is not a beauty contest. We have clear demands which can be addressed by reframing our governance architecture and changing the culture of bad governance. In the past months the incumbent has failed to give us a substantial salary increment. The establishment has failed to guarantee safety of teachers from political vultures.
Q: Teachers are not treated equally with other civil servants, what is your comment on this issue?
A: The people in government today view power preservation as a major priority to service delivery. Education, health and other social services are secondary to their desire of power retention. They can even resort to the use of force to remain in power. This explains why they show a bias to some key apparatus of the security sector.