Headmasters join teachers’ strike

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Raymond Majongwe

BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA

SCHOOL heads yesterday declared incapacitation, joining teachers in pressing the government to pay them in United States dollars, a development that could plunge the first term into chaos.

The first term starts today, but several teachers unions last week declared that their members would not be able to attend classes as they were “incapacitated”.

Teachers are demanding that their earnings be restored to the pre-October 2018 level of US$520.

Yesterday, headmasters joined the chorus, saying they had been engaging government since October last year to revert to US dollar salaries, but have been ignored.

“Our members are not on strike, but we are simply saying we have no capacity to report to work tomorrow (today), and are not capacitated to work. It is unfortunate that after declaring incapacitation we have received threats. Teachers cannot afford bus fare to work, and as school heads and teachers, we have no capacity to even send our children to school,” Zimbabwe National Union of School Heads (Zinush) secretary-general Munyaradzi Majoni told NewsDay yesterday.

He said Zinush last week wrote to Public Service minister Paul Mavima notifying him that school heads and teachers were incapacitated.

School heads in the country reportedly earn around $30 000 per month, which was recently cushioned by the US$75 COVID-19 allowance extended to all civil servants.

“Our first letter was in October 2021, followed by another letter on January 27, 2022, where we asked the government to consider restoring the salaries of the education sector because we knew that schools would open and there would be perennial problems of teachers not going to work.  Mavima decided to ignore our letters, and we have no option now except to declare incapacitation,” he said.

“The government proceeded to announce the schools’ opening date without addressing these key fundamentals. Reports coming from our members in the 10 provinces clearly show that they are largely incapacitated to go to work, apart from the fact that the majority of them are failing to raise fees for their own children.

“In the current circumstances, our members may not be available in schools on February 7, 2022 as expected by our employer, and neither will they be able to comply with the usual demand for statistics and other details on the state of schools.”

Last year, government invoked the no-work no-pay policy for striking teachers and tasked school heads to give names of teachers that were not attending classes. Majoni said headmasters were also warning government against victimisation.

“If government dares to victimise our members, we would not take it lightly. We will take all the recourse possible for workers’ rights to be upheld. Headmasters are not on strike. They are just incapacitated. Take this as an example, if you pluck out a locust’s wings, will it be able to fly? Obviously it can’t,” he said.

“That is the same situation with the school heads, they want to be on duty tomorrow (today), but they are financially incapable. We are not forcing heads to stay away from work. Those who feel that the earnings that they are getting from government are enough to sustain them while at work can do so. We will use all means necessary to defend our members.”

Mavima refused to comment on the issue yesterday.

“The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education is better placed to respond to the questions on that matter,” Mavima said.

Primary and Secondary Education ministry secretary Tumisang Thabela referred all questions to the ministry spokesperson Taungana Ndoro, whose number was not reachable yesterday.

In an interview with NewsDay last week, Ndoro said the government was not fazed by the teachers’ threats to boycott classes at it had become a “trend” whenever schools reopened.

The move by headmasters was welcomed by teachers’ unions yesterday.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said: “We expect school heads to be on the side of teachers. It is wrong for them to believe that they are a different set of employees from teachers. They share the same background of training. If they work together with a teacher, it means the struggle will be won faster. After all, school heads are senior teachers. The bottom line is that teachers and school heads are the same.”

Zimbabwe Teachers Association president Richard Gundane applauded the school heads for rallying behind the teachers.

“We work together with the school heads, and we must all be honest on the factual information on our welfare. It is wrong for employees to back bite each other, if we are to win the struggle. It is very important that we speak with one voice in our call for the government to improve our welfare.”

Meanwhile, scores of boarding school pupils who had not paid their fees in full were turned away yesterday.

When NewsDay visited the Harare showgrounds open space where students were boarding buses, school authorities were demanding proof of payment from pupils before being allowing them onto the school bus.

Government has approved fees increases of between $70 000 and
$100 000 for boarding schools for the first term, despite it being shorter by a month. Parents yesterday told NewsDay that they were struggling to raise school fees as they were above their monthly earnings.

One parent, Cecelia Masuka, said: “Sending a child to school is now very hard. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe has pegged the family basket at $73 000, which shows that the cost of living is very high. I need to pay $83 000 for my child who is doing Form Three at a boarding school (name supplied). I have another child who is doing Grade 6, where I have to pay $12 000, yet I only earn $45 000 per month. It is difficult to make things work given the measly earnings. I asked to pay half the fees, but the school authorities refused.”

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