Party loyalties disrupt education
The fault lines between Zimbabwe's political parties are causing disruption at the opening of the third term in public schools, continuing years of decline in a sector once regarded as sub-Saharan Africa's finest.
It was hoped the formation of the unity government in February 2009 would resurrect the ailing schooling system, but lack of finance, teacher shortages and political spats between teachers' unions are stalling the sector's recovery.
The country ditched its own currency, the Zimbabwe dollar, to tame rampant hyperinflation. In a bid to revitalize public services, employees across the board are paid a similar wage in US dollars, which was initially welcomed but has since been derided as paltry by recipients.
The 40,000-member Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA), seen as having strong ties to President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, is calling for a national strike, which some teachers are already heeding. The union said the current US$140 salary was inadequate and has demanded a US$500 monthly wage.
The usually militant Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), aligned to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), is urging its 20,000 members to refrain from strike action.
"Our position as PTUZ is that the government has no money; going on strike now would not solve anything because there just isn't any. So what we are saying is that teachers are not going on strike - we are in talks with the ministers responsible for education and finance, and we believe that something positive is going to come out of those deliberations."
A teacher at a public school in the capital, Harare, told IRIN: "We are getting tired and confused by conflicting statements from our union leaders, and we get the feeling that we are being used in political games."
The allocation of portfolios in the unity government gave the MDC responsibility for many of the social services ministries, while ZANU-PF maintained their grip on the security ministries.
Western donors have adopted a wait-and-see approach to Zimbabwe's unity government as they are deeply uncertain of the extent of ZANU-PF's commitment to democracy, so billions of dollars of support remain on hold.
David Coltart, minister of education, sport and culture, and a member of a breakaway MDC party led by deputy prime minister Arthur Mutumbara, has called on teachers to appreciate the country's precarious financial situation and the importance of the third term to pupils.
"I would like to appeal to the teachers to return to school because the third term is quite crucial ... public examinations like the Ordinary and Advanced Levels are just round the corner," he said.
I would like to appeal to the teachers to return to school because the third term is quite crucial ... public examinations like the Ordinary and Advanced Levels are just round the cornerTeachers already not teaching
ZIMTA secretary-general Richard Gundani told IRIN: "It is actually not possible for teachers to continue because of inadequate incomes. We have done our assessments and established that a large number of teachers are not teaching - the few teachers still at work are in affluent suburbs, where parents and guardians have offered them extra incentives."
Secretary-general of the MDC, Tendai Biti, who, as Zimbabwe's finance minister is also responsible for coordinating the payment of public servants, told the state-controlled daily newspaper, The Herald, that the unity government could not afford any wage increases.
"Unless there is a dramatic improvement in the economy and revenue improves by 300 percent we have no extra fiscal space for a salary increment at the moment; there is no money, and government is currently operating on a cash budget."
He said the unity government had realized its largest revenue so far in July 2009, but the bulk of it went towards paying the country's 236,000 public servants.
"We paid around US$52 million for civil servants' salaries and the rest has gone to the hospitals for drugs, the various embassies across the world, food, and inputs for agricultural activities, among other expenses."