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Zimbabwe teachers continue to strike in face of threats of violence

media Pupils stand outside classrooms at a government school in the capital city of Harare, Zimbabwe, February 5, 2019 Reuters/P. Bulawayo

Facing increasing risks of job losses, and even violence, Zimbabwe teachers across the country continued their strike for better pay and transport costs for the second day on Wednesday, according to union officials.

“We want the teachers to know that they have the right to strike. The unions have called for a strike,” said Richard Gundane, President of the Harare-based Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (ZIMTA). “They mustn’t feel intimidated, particularly when officers from the employer’s side are collecting information on them,” he told RFI.

Reports of intimidation against the teachers are real, Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) Secretary-General Raymond Majongwe told RFI.

“They are threatening them with dismissal, threatening them with removal from the schools, they are threatening them with job losses, and they are also threatening them with violence,” said Majongwe. He added that teachers have also been summoned to police stations.

Fuel price hikes

The teachers began their strike on Tuesday after the fuel price hikes announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa on 13 January made it nearly impossible to live, say the unions.

The state-run Herald newspaper reported that the strike call was not heeded and teachers did not down tools. An official with a public sector workers union said in the Herald that it was, “business as usual”.

The teachers went on strike last year, before they were given a monetary settlement for back pay, said Gundane. They had been paid their wages in US dollars. The introduction of bond notes in 2016 was intended to relieve a shortage of cash in the economy. However, the shortage has worsened and a black market for US dollars has thrived.

“There became a vast difference of almost 300 per cent in terms of the value. So a person who was earning 500 US dollars wakes up and finds they are earning 120 US dollars,” he added.

“This erosion of their wages have galvanized the teachers,” said ZIMTA’s Gundane, who will decide, along with the other teachers unions on whether to prolong the strike.

Some of the teachers who have been intimidated have gone to work, but many have been observed on go-slows, where they physically show up at school but do not teach.

The strike was called for a living wage, so teachers can support their families, said Majongwe.

“We want to make it very clear: this strike is not political. This strike is purely about labour issues, about the welfare and condition of workers,” he said.

The only upside to the strike action is a meeting of the minds between teacher union rivals PTUZ and ZIMTA, who have come together to call the strike.

“We realized that it is important that we speak with one voice so we do not cause confusion,” said Gundane. “We are united in this strike action, all the way, right from the beginning to the end.”

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