Zimbabwe has an enviable record in Africa for the quality of its educated population. The enormous investment in education from the beginning of Independence in 1980, has drawn favourable comment in Africa and around the world. It is thus deeply disturbing that schools have become sites of repression and teachers targets for repression. Children have been forced to attend political rallies, schools have become places where partisan political meetings take place, and teachers have become the targets of intimidation and violence.

This is no new phenomenon. Teachers were targets for political violence during the Liberation War, and have been targets in most elections since 2000, with 2008 perhaps the worst to date. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (Human Rights Forum) documented 283 cases of human rights violations against teachers in the period from January 2001 to June 2002. In 2008, 50% of teachers in a national sample of 1034 teachers reported an incident of organised violence, with half of these reporting that this happened at school in front of children.

In all the focus on teachers it is well not to forget the effects on young children. An examination of the data collected by the Human Rights Forum between 2000 and 2009 showed 103 cases where children were specifically identified as being victims of or direct witnesses to political violence. It also showed 89 cases where violence occurred at schools, involving violence against teachers, violence taking place at schools, or schools being used as “bases”, and 254 cases where violent attacks took place at citizens’ homes, where the implication is that children may have been involved, but children are not mentioned specifically.

Teachers tried to prevent the abuse of schools, children and teachers during the 2018 elections. The teachers’ unions approached the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, who issued a comprehensive report and recommendations, but these were ignored. Veritas then took a case on behalf of Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) against political parties commandeering school premises and other property, e.g. buses, furniture (chairs and tables etc.) for their campaigning. The court application also asked that coercing school children and teachers to attend or participate in rallies, wearing party regalia or performing at political rallies and coercing teachers to contribute in cash or in kind towards rallies, must be stopped. The case resulted in an interdict on political parties doing so. The case came to the attention of the UN which commended the outcome. Unfortunately ZANU-PF appealed to the Supreme Court presided over by the Chief Justice, who overturned the interdict. It is now important that the use of school properties and the abuse of children and teachers in political campaigns should be outlawed in the new Education Amendment Bill.

When reports came in that teachers were once again being targeted, this time for participating in industrial action, the Safe Learning Institutions Initiative (SLII) decided that it was important to document what was happening.

Two methods were used. The first was an SMS-based reporting system, using a simple binary code, and 366 teachers responded using this system. The second method was interviews with individual teachers, using a prepared and tested questionnaire, and this generated 634 completed questionnaires. The data was compiled, analysed and forms the basis for this report. The SMS data was used as the basis for validating the questionnaire data.

The sample was composed of mature persons who might be expected to be making reasoned decisions about their conditions, most were qualified teachers and very few were either student teachers or temporary teachers. These were teachers with lengthy experience in their jobs: 51% had been teaching for more than eight years. Nearly 40% had been at their present post for more than seven years, and over 70% had been there more than four years.

Teachers’ personal experiences
The majority of the teachers reported mostly intimidation (71%), humiliation (42%) and threats (60%), but there were some very serious violations alleged that have been independently followed up. As regards the perpetrators, and in the context of an industrial dispute, the frequencies of Ministry officials (25%), members of School Development Committees (15%) and traditional leaders (11%) are a very worrying sign. Furthermore, it is even more distressing that 66% reported that the violations were witnessed by children, either at school or at home. Of those that reported witnessing a violation, the majority (58%) reported that this happened at school. This collaboration of community members apparently ganging up on their own teachers can do very little for community cohesion, and even less for children having trust in their teachers.

We also inquired about past experiences, and for many this was not the first time that they had experienced political violence. Teachers are significantly more likely to experience a human rights violation in an election year than in any other year, and 81% had had a violation during an election year. 2008 was far and away the worst year for teachers, and 48% of the sample reported being the victim of political violence during that election. They also reported similar experiences in 2013 (19%) and 2018 (18%).
In summary then, there are very high rates of alleged intimidation, humiliation and threats, both directly experienced and witnessed. The main alleged perpetrators are ZANU-PF supporters, Ministry officials, members of the school development committees (SDC) and traditional leaders. In the context of an industrial dispute, it is evident that the only parties to the dispute are the teachers engaged in dispute and their employer, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education. Thus, traditional leaders and members of the SDC have no business getting involved, and none of the above-mentioned parties – ZANU-PF, Ministry officials, SDCs and traditional leaders – have any business intimidating, humiliating or threatening teachers on strike.

Examination of the serious cases
Thirty-two (32) reports were deemed as “serious cases” and were referred to the Counselling Services Unit (CSU) and the Legal Unit of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.
• Total number of teachers treated was 29 (19 males and 10 females);
• Total number reporting assaults was 17, with the others suffering intimidation, discrimination and threats because of their affiliation;
• One (1) rape victim was seen.

The major violations reported were:
• Victimization, by school Heads and Education officials District Office, for participating in the Union’s Industrial action in 2018 and 2019;
• Harassment and Intimidation from the surrounding communities;
• Assaults from members of community and security agencies

Twenty-four (24 legal) counseling sessions were provided, and twenty-five (25) required medical assistance, mostly for soft tissue injuries and fractures. These latter clients were provided with antibiotics, analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs. Initial psychiatric screening of all clients indicated that 60% had scores signifying high psychological trauma levels warranting counselling and medical interventions. As a result, 29 clients (19 males and 10 females) received individual counselling sessions and are being followed up.

Effects on the teachers
Only 25% reported being injured, and only 17% sought any form of medical assistance for the injury. It was clear that the large majority did not report overt violence, but violations, especially if not reported and no help given can lead to psychological disorder. The literature on trauma strongly points out that the most common short and long-term consequences of organised violence and torture is psychological disorder, with fear of recurrence, usually anxiety, being a major feature of many psychological disorders, and particularly Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD). This will obviously be exacerbated if the cause of the fear lies close at hand, and (69%) answered that they live in the same community where they know and see perpetrators of violence. This is obvious in light of the identity of the perpetrators mentioned above.

Virtually no-one reported to the police, with 88% stating that they feared reprisal if they did so and anyhow the majority thought that the government and ZANU-PF were behind the violations.

More important is what teachers will do, both with the dilemma over employment and livelihoods, and with their ill-treatment.

Thirty-seven percent (37%) of the respondents knew of a significant number of teachers that left a school because of political pressure, as well as quarter (25%) knowing of teachers that left for the Diaspora. In the current situation, 46% think about leaving very often or often, and overall 84% have thought about leaving their current station because of threats. Nearly half (49%) of these teachers would merely wish to shift to a more secure position, and most of these to an urban school, where, presumably, they would be safe from intimidation, threats and worse. However, over half (51%) would leave the country, a pattern that has been seen repeatedly. Bear in mind here that these are experienced teachers, and the country can scarcely afford such a loss of skilled manpower.

One might wonder why poor communities with struggling teachers and schools would want to jeopardise the lives of their children by ill-treating their teachers. Qualified and committed teachers are a precious resource, and there can be little doubt in the minds of any Zimbabwean that teachers (and doctors, nurses and plethora of state workers) are struggling with severe adversity.

Teachers, and other essential workers, carry an important responsibility for other Zimbabweans, and not merely their families. The future depends on the young, and Zimbabwe is a young country. Our development in the future will depend in great measure on the quality of our children’s education, and the quality of the education will determine to a great extent the skill set of the future population and the solutions to the many problems the country will face. Thus, there can be no advantage in jeopardising a precious resource by ill-treating teachers in addition to the burdens that they must face as ordinary citizens in times of severe hardship.

Teachers are too frequently targets in times of political conflict, and this small survey suggests that this does not change: the reasons might change, but it seems that teachers will remain a target. This is why so many countries have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, and, even if Zimbabwe cannot be considered in a state of armed conflict, it certainly is in state of prolonged political conflict. We would thus contend that the Safe Schools Declaration has applicability even to Zimbabwe, and that allegations of intimidation, humiliation and threats against teachers do not create safe schools, and are inimical to the best interests of schooling and children.

It is further disappointing that there is no provision in the proposed new Education Act for making schools safe, and not merely to protect teachers from intimidation and threat (and worse), but also to protect children from witnessing political violence, being forced to rallies, and being caught in the middle of the political disagreements between the parents in their communities.

This small report cannot be definitive, but the allegations made by these 634 teachers cannot be brushed aside. Industrial disputes are not prima facie political acts, but part of normal democratic practice, and protected under the Constitution in Section 65 (Labour Rights) and Section 67 (Political Rights).

We offer the following recommendations:
• That the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission should immediately undertake a full and comprehensive investigation of these allegations, ascertain their veracity, and make recommendations to the Government for appropriate action;
• That the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education should issue an immediate instruction to all its officers that any industrial dispute should be managed solely in terms of the Labour Act and government regulations;
• That the Government of Zimbabwe should make an immediate statement that all persons and groups, not party to the industrial dispute (political party supporters, traditional leaders, members of School Development Committees, etc.) should desist from any independent and unlawful involvement in the dispute;
• Finally, the Government of Zimbabwe should establish its good intentions in respect of the above by endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration and implementing the Safe Schools Guidelines.

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