Teachers association accused of deliberate disruption of education

coltart_davidThe countrys largest teachers union has this week been accused of deliberately disrupting the start of the new school term, with observers commenting that the union has highly politicised motives.(Pictured: David Coltart)

Thousands of members of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) on Wednesday embarked on a nationwide strike to coincide with the start of the new term. The teachers association said the strike only started picking up momentum on Thursday, with an official saying up to 95% of its members have downed tools. Other reports suggest the strike has been less dramatic, with education officials saying the strike more closely resembles a go-slow.

Education Minister David Coltart explained on Thursday that the majority of teachers have reported to work, despite the nationwide strike called by ZIMTA last week. The association had called for the industrial action over unresolved salary grievances, arguing the government has not been sincere in guaranteeing better wages and working conditions for the countrys educators. The Education and Finance Ministries have previously called for patience from disgruntled civil servants, explaining the government does not have the financial resources to improve salaries yet.

An attempt to avert the strike on Monday failed when a meeting between the Union and government officials did not materialise. However, Education Minister Coltart, as well as Finance Minister Tendai Biti, met with the leaders of the countrys two other, smaller teachers unions on Tuesday, to encourage a productive start to the school term. Officials from the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) and the Teachers Union of Zimbabwe told the Ministers that their members were being encouraged to return to their posts at the start of the term on Wednesday, saying a strike was futile and a threat to the countrys reputation.

Minister Coltart told SW Radio Africa on Thursday that ZIMTA teachers only left their posts after union officials circulated a letter, telling their members to do so. Coltart explained that mass confusion is now the order of the day, with many teachers embarking on a go-slow rather than a full on strike, but he added that some teaching is underway. The Minister said that the timing of the ZIMTA strike is suspicious, accusing the union of deliberately disrupting the start of a very important school term.

This is a cynical action by ZIMTA that has been deliberately planned to have the greatest possible impact, Coltart said. It shows callous disregard for the welfare of the students.

The strike has revealed deep divisions between the members of the different unions, with critics arguing the move by ZIMTA is highly politicised. ZIMTA has always been a ZANU PF aligned union and has never before called for strike action. On the other hand, the usually more militant PTUZ is said to be supportive of the MDC, and has exercised more patience with the fledgling unity government. Observers have said the ZIMTA strike is a deliberate attempt to discredit the MDC, which now has the troubled Finance and Education Ministries to turn around, after they completely collapsed while in the hands of ZANU PF.

ZIMTAs Acting Chief Executive, Sifiso Ndlovu, on Thursday said such accusations are neither here nor there, arguing their sole motive is to urge the government to meet the salary demands of teachers. Ndlovu argued, It is unfortunate that students will suffer and that education will be compromised, but he said he hoped the strike would be concluded well before students write exams.

ZIMTA is a-political, has always been a-political and will remain a-political, Ndlovu said. We will continue to engage with the government and represent teachers for their needs. Meanwhile, there has been an angry outcry over Minister Bitis attempts to persuade striking teachers to rescind their decision, after he said that Robert Mugabe is taking home a monthly salary of US$300.

Unless there is a dramatic improvement in the economy and revenue improves by 300 per cent, we have no fiscal space for a salary increment at the moment. Even the President is currently earning US$300 and we can’t draw water from stones. The economy is not performing, Biti told teachers.

However the statement will likely cause anger among civil servants who do not have the financial resources to support their families, never mind take medical breaks in Dubai or pay foreign university tutelage for their children. It is widely acknowledged that Mugabe is the wealthiest man in Zimbabwe as a result of years of dictatorial rule and corruption.

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