Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) and its leader, Obert Masaraure, have been giving state agents sleepless nights lately.
BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
ARTUZ was formed a few years ago and was virtually unknown two years ago, but it has now grown to be one of the most radical and influential groups in the country.
Operating within a rural set-up where civic rights activism is not commonplace given the intimidation and threats by political activists and state agents, it took a while for Masaraure and his associates to register their existence in fighting for their long neglected constituency.
In December 2018, ARTUZ held a Salary Caravan March that started off as a joke where members walked from Mutare to Harare demanding payment of their salaries in United States dollars among other demands.
Upon arrival in Macheke, Masaraure and eight others were rounded up by police, arrested and taken to Marondera Police Station where they were detained.
They were, however, freed by the courts which found they had committed no crime.
Last week, The Standard caught up with Masaraure hours before his alleged abduction and arrest on charges of treason.
The state is accusing him of being part of the January 14 stay-away organisers.
Masaraure said he would fight for the marginalised at all costs.
“We are forced to fight by socio-economic realities obtaining around us. We are experiencing the prevailing hardships because we are also teachers. We are, however, inspired by the need to improve accessibility of education in marginalised societies. Zimbabwe is losing the fine brains born in rural outposts and we have to ensure that these kids access quality education and help build a better Zimbabwe,” he said.
Masaraure (34) is a chemistry teacher at Chemhanza High School in Wedza. He is a holder of BSc Honours degree in Chemical Technology from Midlands State University.
As part of their push to have salaries paid in foreign currency, upon reaching the capital, Masaraure and other rural teachers camped at Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s office in a move meant to pile pressure on their employer to take heed to their plight.
“The message is getting to the intended target. The government is already offering a cushioning allowance. We will push harder until we get a living wage,” he added.
Masaraure’s colleague and ARTUZ secretary-general Robson Chere was also arrested for being organisers of the recent protests.
Chere is a science teacher at Arcturus.
It is difficult to mobilise for membership in the polarised rural areas, but Masaraure said they were making inroads with the rural teachers lobbying to form a solid union.
“Our membership is growing at an encouraging rate. We have outdone ourselves. The teachers are now coming together to build a solid union that is for teachers by teachers. The desire to see a just society where the national cake is equitably distributed pushes us to keep on fighting against all odds,” he said.
Masaraure was arrested following a crackdown by state security agents on human rights activists and opposition party members.
According to him, the zeal to see teachers and Zimbabweans freely expressing their constitutional rights has seen him being detained close to 50 times since his days as a student union leader.
“I have been arrested for close to 50 times now. The year 2008 was my worst experience having spent a fortnight in cells in Gweru and released without a charge. I had staged a peaceful protest on the streets of Gweru. My family is now used to that because they too share the same vision of a just society,” he said.
Though he has spent time in police cells or remand prison, Masaraure is a happy that he still produces good results for his chemistry students.
“My results have been impressive over the years and my supervisors have never found a reason to discuss my activism,” he said.
Masaraure is currently detained over charges he has pleaded not guilty to. Having been a darling of the prison walls since he started activism, the teacher is hoping that tomorrow his bail application will sail through and he will perhaps join other teachers who have threatened job action this week.