Why Treat the Symptom and Not the Root Cause?
On Wednesday, 4thApril the Herald reported the governor for Mashonaland East Cde EniasChigwedere acknowledged that there were over 1000 vacant teaching posts in his province. Chigwedere called upon government to come up with a plan so that the teacher-child ration is reduced. I cannot agree more with the governor. If Mashonaland East has over 1000 vacancies, I can only imagine the numbers for other provinces.
But one has to interrogate why there is a shortage of teachers in Zimbabwe, yet the country produces thousands of graduate teachers every year. Perhaps the simplest explanation could be poor working conditions and low salaries especially in the rural areas. However, there are more intricate issues that have resulted in teacher shortages in Zimbabwe especially in rural communities. It is reported that Zimbabwe lost nearly 70,000 trained teachers especially to South Africa between 2000 and 2010. Some of the causes were economic, but it is also a fact that teachers were victims of politically motivated violence.
The Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) in collaboration with the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) carried out a national survey on teachers’ experiences during elections since 2000. The findings of the study revealed that most teachers in the rural areas were in one way or the other victims or witnesses of politically motivated violence. The report pointed to the fact that teachers were targeted by war veterans, youth militias, traditional leaders, soldiers, CIO and even fellow teachers because of the influence they are purported to exert on their respective communities. Teachers were accused of working for the opposition political parties which resulted in the defeat of ZANU PF in key strongholds.
Female teachers were sexually violated and embarrassed at political rallies. Militia bases were set up in schools resulting in many disruptions of the learning processes. Teachers were summoned to night vigils to receive political re-orientation and be taught about the country’s history. In some worse cases, teachers were beaten during assembly in front of school children or at their homes in full view of the community and made examples of how ‘sell-outs’ would be dealt with.
To be safe teachers had to flee communities where they had been terrorized and the logical thing was to seek a teaching post at an urban school. When they couldn’t get one, the next best option was to go and do menial jobs such as waiting tables or farm labourers in South Africa, just to run away from political violence.
Civil servants striking, photo accredited to www.bulawayo24.com
The situation on the ground is that the threats to teachers have not been removed and teachers are living in constant fear. They are under surveillance and village Headman now have power to dismiss teachers whom they feel are a ‘threat’ to ZANU PF interests. In some cases even headmasters are terrorizing teachers for participation in trade unionism.
It is dangerous to be a teacher especially in rural communities where political party structures interfere with the professional running of schools. Coupled with low remuneration, poor housing and perhaps no ‘incentives’ from the poor communities, teachers will also look for ‘greener pastures’ and unfortunately this is not to seek employment in a rural setting. I can imagine how many vacancies are available in Masvingo and Mashonaland Central Provinces which reported high incidences of violence in the same period.
To address this problem genuine political will is required and that may include banning all political activities in schools and guaranteeing the safety of teachers. Teachers are professionals and for them to report to the headman is a mockery of the noble profession. Perhaps what Honorable Governor Chigwedere can do to address the staffing problems in rural areas is to support a motion in Parliament for making schools ‘Politics free-zones.’
For the full report on teachers, refer to our RAU website; www.researchandadvocacyunit.org