Poor turnout for Zimbabwe teachers' strike amid fear of reprisals

Published Feb 5, 2019


Harare - Some Zimbabwean teachers stayed at home while others went slow on the job as a strike at state schools got off to a patchy start amid fears of further intimidation by security forces who cracked down hard on last month's protests.

Zimbabwe is grappling with an economic crisis marked by cash shortages and rising prices of basic goods after President Emmerson Mnangagwa hiked fuel costs 150 percent last month.

That brought demonstrations and looting, plus a brutal response from security agents, which rights groups say left 12 people dead. Police put the figure at three.

In schools near central Harare, most teachers appeared to have turned up for work, but some were not conducting lessons in adherence with the strike, witnesses said.

In a classroom at a primary school in Harare's Mbare township, a Reuters photographer saw one teacher eating from her lunch box in the morning while pupils sat quietly.

She and the headmistress declined to be interviewed.

"Stay home, be safe. Don't be intimidated by police and CIOs (Central Intelligence Organisation)," the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA), the biggest teachers' union, said in a circular to members.

Zimbabwe has more than 100,000 public sector teachers.

The Bulawayo-based online news site, Centre for Innovation and Technology, said teachers at several schools in the country's second biggest city did not turn up for work and parents had to collect their children.

"Some teachers are in class but there is no meaningful teaching going on," ZIMTA president Richard Gundane told Reuters.

Government workers are demanding wage rises and payments in U.S. dollars to cope with soaring inflation and an economic crisis that has sapped supplies of fuel and medicines.

Many Zimbabweans, who have seen purchasing power eroded despite adopting the dollar in 2009, say Mnangagwa has not delivered on pre-election pledges to kick-start growth after the exit of Robert Mugabe in 2017.

Despite their demands for better pay, other public workers declined to join teachers on strike because they are fearful of the volatile security situation and want to continue negotiations with the government.

Economic hardships have seen the government allowing nurses to work just three days a week because they do not have enough money for bus fares, the nurses union said on Tuesday.

The government has pleaded with teachers' unions to give talks a chance, saying children will be prejudiced.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe and Philemon Bulawayo; Editing by James Macharia and Andrew Cawthorne)