BY EVERSON MUSHAVA
THE escalating levels of poverty among underpaid civil servants is forcing government workers to engage in criminal activities in order to survive, a teachers’ union has said.
George Mushipe, president of the Zimbabwe Democratic Teachers Union, said this after pictures of a man believed to be an acting headmaster caught stealing maize cobs from a yet to be identified place in the country.
It has since emerged that the “maize thief” is a science teacher at a private school in Waterfalls on the outskirts of Harare, identified as Jonathan Chatikobo.
But Mushipe said the incident was not an isolated case, but several teachers and other members of the civil service had been implicated in criminal activities, mainly thieving, fraud or robbery due to economic hardships since their salaries are now sub-economic.
“While this can be an isolated case, I can tell you there are many. Apart from him, we have two others who have committed suicide, and we then said, never underestimate the level of poverty among teachers in Zimbabwe and the entire civil service,” Mushipe said.
“We don’t condone thieving, but here is someone who had no other options except pass through someone’s field and help himself.”
Of late, there has been an increase in cases of police and military personnel being involved in robbery and fraud.
Several soldiers and police officers have been implicated in illegal mining including forming part of the dreaded machete gangs, popularly known as MaShurugwi, killing and robbing people in mining communities.
Late last year, a police radio communication revealed that some female police officers were visiting Mazowe’s Jumbo Mine soliciting for transactional sex due to economic hardships.
Government workers now earn a minimum of about $3 000 after the salary increase effected last month, but the figure is still too low — equivalent to about US$100 on the parallel market — at a time the prices of goods continue to rise using the greenback as the reference point.
Government workers, particularly doctors and nurses, are leaving the country in droves in search of greener pastures mostly in South Africa, Europe, the United States and other countries.
Added Mushipe: “We are trying to locate him, but not only him, but we will try to use his case to bring to the attention of government how their employees are suffering out there.
“We had teachers in Mbare and Epworth (in Harare) who we had to assist after they were chucked out of their lodgings. They couldn’t afford rentals. There are a lot of such cases, but this one has been brought to the attention of many Zimbabweans through social media.”