HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s under pressure government is facing a fresh crisis after teachers warned yesterday that they would stage a crippling strike if authorities go ahead with their plans to close more than 40 schools in Matabeleland South.
Their mass action threats come as fed up nurses have also given the government notice that they will soon start toyi-toying to press for improved working conditions and the dismissal of the Health Services Board (HSB) secretariat, which they accuse of failing to act on their long-standing grievances.
Various teachers’ representatives told the Daily News yesterday that they had already put in motion the process of mobilising their members, civic groups and community leaders to confront the government over the school closure debacle.
This comes after the government announced last week that it was planning to shut down 40 schools in Matabeleland South — on account of low pupil and student enrolments.
A fuming Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary general, Raymond Majongwe, did not mince his words yesterday, telling the Daily News that they would go on strike if the government went ahead with their plans.
“The response from various groups is overwhelming because we are all agreed that we must speak with one voice to pressure authorities.
“Several CSOs (civil society organisations) and activists are willing to join the communities that are being punished by government for being located away from schools.
“The policy is that an examination centre can be established where six people have registered for examinations, yet here we are talking about 100 or more pupils who will be disadvantaged by the plans at some schools.
“So, after consultations, we greed that we will take whatever action will be necessary, including demonstrating,” Majongwe said.
The chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta), Sifiso Ndlovu also said his organisation would not countenance any schools being closed by “a rigid ministry that lacks dynamism”.
“We will continue to engage government on this and put pressure on them, encouraging the authorities to abandon the plans as we also want to tell the permanent secretary to stop all this nonsense of wanting to run the ministry as if it were her private company.
“This ministry is not organised, it is rigid and lacks dynamism. Imagine a ministry in which the average age of virtually its entire education officers from district to province is 55 years.
“Obviously, their thinking is not in tandem with that of the younger generation because of the rigidity which may not bring transformation in a manner that the young minds can,” Ndlovu thundered.
The plan to close down the schools has also not gone down well with local residents and civil society groups, who both accuse the government of being insensitive to the plight of the poor, and the people of Matabeleland in particular, who have long felt marginalised by the State.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesperson, Dumisani Nkomo, is also on record saying the move will be challenged vigorously.
“This move smacks of further alienation, discrimination and marginalisation of an already exploited region.
“We reiterate our position that we are vehemently opposed to the closing of schools to the already historical disadvantaged regions of Matabeleland.
“We will not stand by idly as the rights of children are violated. We call upon our members to resist this insane move.
“It is frivolous and vexatious for the government to claim that these schools are not viable when the government is presiding over more than 50 loss-making parastatals and yet these loss-making entities are still dear to government,” Nkomo said.
He also said the government’s decision was a flagrant violation of section 75 of the Constitution, which ensured the right to education, as well as section 81 which upheld children’s rights.
The Community Development Trust (CDT) also described the decision to close the schools as “totally unacceptable as it violates the children’s right to education”.
“This is based on a flawed, outdated and ill-conceived policy of one teacher to 40 students, which is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy that does not consider differences in settlement patterns and population sizes of various communities of Zimbabwe and in Matabeleland.
“In this policy directive, the ministry … did not consider the best interests of the children but its own administrative interests, which is wrong,” CDT director Nkululeko Tshuma said.
Human rights lawyer, Dewa Mavhinga, also told the Daily News yesterday that teachers would be “totally justified” to go on strike, as the closure of schools was a very important matter.
“The threat to close over 40 schools in Matabeleland is a matter of national importance that justifies strike action by teachers, and which parents, civil society, and progressive political movements should join to condemn this blatant attack on the right to education.
“The government should not purport to address low enrolment by creating problems. Any necessary interventions must also involve the communities themselves,” Mavhinga told the Daily News.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC also said it was time for “all progressive forces to join hands and resist the government’s ruinous policies such as the threat to close schools”.
“The decision to close 40 schools in Matabeleland is absolutely nauseating. The Zanu PF regime has now gone bonkers.
“Of course, the MDC, as a labour backed political party, is very much in support of the decision by teachers to embark on a nationwide strike to protest the unconstitutional and vindictive government decision to close 40 schools in Matabeleland South.
“The people of Matabeleland have continued to suffer badly since the Gukurahundi genocide … Minister Lazarus Dokora and his team at the ministry of Education must surely be smoking some hazardous substance.
“Otherwise, how on earth could they arrive at this shocking decision to close 40 schools in this historically marginalised region?” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said.
Meanwhile, nurses gave notice last week to strike, over poor working conditions which they blame on the HSB “clueless” board.
“We feel the HSB does not understand us and how we operate. We have been raising our grievances since 2010 and up to nowthey have not yet addressed those issues.
“The purpose of the HSB is to address the conditions of service for health workers, but this is not happening,” Zimbabwe Nurses Association secretary-general, Enock Dongo, told the Daily News on Friday.
“Even when you have been working as a nurse for 10 years, and when you should be considered to be a senior, you get the lowest salary of about $285. It’s all because your grade doesn’t change. You remain grade D1, instead of maybe D3.
“Someone can also have three or four diplomas on top of a nursing degree and still be in that low grade. We have specialities in midwifery, intensive care and physiotherapy, but all that is not being recognised.
“We want the HSB secretariat to be removed … and we will not stop demonstrating until they are removed. They are non-medical people and they don’t even know how we operate as health workers,” Dongo said.
“When we discuss our issues with the board, they appear to understand, but the problem comes with implementation … that’s where the problem is. We cannot have the lives and professions of over 35 000 people suffer because of a few people, and we are saying we are fed up,” he added.