HomeNewsWe are not enemies of the State: Majongwe

We are not enemies of the State: Majongwe

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Divisions rocked teachers unions recently over salary negotiations with government following a workers’ strike which lasted for about two months. Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary-general Raymond Majongwe says the 41% salary offer by government, which will see teachers now earn $19 000, is not a negotiated offer, but is a salary imposed by government on teachers. He said teachers could not be blamed for the bad behaviour of pupils during the teachers’ strike. The following are excerpts of an interview between NewsDay senior reporter Miriam Mangwaya (ND) and Majongwe (RM) on different issues pertaining to the education sector in the country.

INTERVIEW:Miriam Mangwaya

ND: As a teachers’ representative body, what is your role in promoting access to education in the country?

RM: Our role is simply to serve the interests of the teachers in promoting their rights and welfare. We also fight to ensure that the education sector continues to survive in this harsh economic environment. Trade unionism is a necessary evil in every country, but in Zimbabwe, we have been labelled enemies of the State, an appendage of the opposition party, the MDC, which is not true.

PTUZ was formed in 1997, while the MDC was formed in 1999, but government has maliciously politicised activism by our union. This has reduced teachers to low class citizens, a common phenomenon in the (late former President Robert) Mugabe regime, which is continuing in this so-called new dispensation.

Zimbabwe celebrates a high literacy rate of above 90% which was made possible by the underpaid teachers, nevertheless. Teachers’ union leaders are beaten, threatened and prosecuted on arbitrary arrests. Teachers are not pursuing political agendas but are patriots, dedicated to foster education among learners.

ND: What is your reaction to the latest salary offer by the government?

RM: The new salary offer is not a product of dialogue. The Cabinet decided and imposed its offer. There was no collective bargaining in reaching the salary increase, which is unconstitutional. But this has resulted in us as teachers’ unions creating a united front. This is the important thing that has happened in the history of trade unionism.

We are pushing for a teacher sector federation where all teachers’ unions are going to come under one body and fight for one good cause. We would be able to challenge the Public Service Commission to engage the Education minister and take legal positions as one body. We are going to approach the courts soon so that they don’t allow the Apex Council to continue existing illegally because its term expired 18 months ago.

As it is right now, wrong people are making unfavourable decisions on behalf of the civil servants, which is to the workers’ disadvantage.

ND: What is the situation at schools, and the authorities’ preparedness in dealing with the likely second wave of COVID-19?

RM: Zimbabwean schools, save for those that are privately-owned, do not have the capacity to deal with this pandemic. They don’t have the necessary resources such as sanitisers, personal protective equipment and thermometers. Most schools do not even have running water. Pupils in poverty-stricken rural areas are going to school without masks.

Of much concern is that the teachers have not been trained to deal with the disease. Social distancing is difficult to observe at most over-enrolled government schools. I conducted a survey in high-density suburb schools recently and found out that most schools have an average enrolment of 46 pupils in one class, which is against the World Health Organisation guidelines.

The situation at John Tallach Secondary School should be an eye-opener for the government, but it appears the authorities are not even fazed. In short, schools opening amid the coronavirus pandemic is just a ticking time bomb.

ND: Are the candidates confident enough to sit for the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) end of year examinations after learning was disrupted by the lockdown and teachers’ strike?

RM: The candidates have made it very clear that they are not prepared because they have not met the minimum threshold of syllabi coverage for them to be able to sit for their examinations.

Government is also not considering the plight of children living with disabilities, particularly those with visual and hearing impairments who could not access radio lessons that were being offered during the lockdown. Rural pupils were also affected by the digital divide in accessing radio lessons.

Most rural parents have no smart phones, radios and other gadgets that could enable their children to participate in the radio or online lessons. Basically, the radio and online lessons were accessible to the children of the elite. Therefore, it is not fair for Zimsec to treat all candidates equally given those circumstances.

ND: How has the teachers’ strike impacted learning at schools?

RM: For the record, teachers were not on strike. They were incapacitated. Government claimed that it had provided the Zupco buses to relieve teachers of transport challenges, but buses did not cater for all their needs and workers could not go to work while facing a number of problems that had to be addressed financially.

Parents continued to send their children to school when they knew very well that teachers were incapacitated and were at their homes. That led to immorality among pupils at schools, you are aware of the sex orgies and drug abuse videos that went viral on social media. Teachers cannot be blamed for that. What do you want a teacher to do when the law now permits the child to get pregnant and be the readmitted at school?

Pupils can drink beer, take drugs as much as they want but the law states they can’t be expelled and a lowly paid teacher is expected to instil morality on such children. Government should know that bad macro socio-economic policies impact more on education rather than reactive measures by teachers.

ND: What were the teachers’ surviving tactics during the time they were incapacitated?

RM: Government has turned teachers into criminals. Because of the meagre salaries they get they have ventured into illegal mining, vending, cross-border trading and all other forms of side businesses because they have families to take care of. Some have gone to the extent of running makeshift schools which is against the law.

As a result, their focus has been divided between hustling and their profession, which has impacted on the quality of learning in schools. The government should ensure that the teachers’ demands are met. We expect the 2021 budget to improve the teachers’ working environment in terms of infrastructure and above all, their salaries which should be at least above the poverty datum line.

ND: Finance minister Mthuli Ncube recently said the government was the best paying employer, what do you say about that?

RM: When someone has a tendency of speaking the opposite of the truth, they start believing in their lies. Government can’t declare that it is the best payer when its employees are the poorest. It’s actually an insult. Even a street vendor is surviving better than a civil servant. How can he (Ncube) say a salary of US$190 is the best in this country?

Mthuli Ncube needs to be reminded that austerity will never lead to prosperity. It’s as good as believing that one can walk to heaven on foot. Teachers are flooding masowe (apostolic church shrines) and traditional healers to seek medical attention because they can’t afford hospital bills and government brags about being the best employer. Policymakers are deliberately detaching themselves from reality.

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