THE impasse between teachers and the government has become a threat to the future of education in Zimbabwe. Teachers in the country have been on industrial action for almost a year, demanding better salaries and working conditions, but the government has not met the demands.
The NewsHawks correspondent Chris Mahove (CM) caught up with the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) president Obert Masaraure (OM), who spoke on a wide range of issues.
Below are excerpts of the interview:
CM: Who is Obert Masaraure?
OM: Obert is a chemistry teacher and revolutionary leftist currently fighting for pro-poor education and labour justice for education workers in Zimbabwe.
CM: How did you get into trade unionism?
OM: I was recruited by the frustrating contradictions at the workplace. The extreme levels of exploitation by the employer forced me to act. Ideological grooming from the students’ union guided my thought process on choosing the course of action.
CM: What motivates you as a trade unionist?
OM: Trade unionism serves as a catalyst for recalibrating the calculus of the national economy. Organised labour can drive the agenda of equitable distribution of national wealth. My passion is to see socio-economic justice and feel I am in the right boat in the labour movement.
CM: You have been arrested on several occasions during the course of your duty as Artuz president. Does that not break your spirit?
OM: President Mnangagwa is a coward; he is scared of the citizens he purports to lead. Arresting citizens is a desperate attempt to silence them. Unfortunately for him, the arrests are emboldening us . Spending time in custody has given us time to reflect on the national crisis and made us realise the need to urgently fight for the restoration of normalcy in our battered nation.
CM: You have been accused by the government of pursuing a Western-sponsored agenda to effect regime change. What is your response to these allegations?
OM: The reactionary Zanu PF government has no moral authority to accuse us of being puppets of the West. It is Emmerson Mnangagwa, their leader, who tried to sabotage the African National Congress’s fight against apartheid in the ‘80s.
It is Mnangagwa who attempted to evict Chilonga residents to accommodate a white man. It is the Zanu PF government which is paying over US$3 billion in compensation to white farmers.
It is Mnangagwa who is always groveling at the feet of Western countries, including paying millions of dollars to lobbyists in America to solicit the support of the American government.
On pursuing a change of government, I admit I don’t like Zanu PF’s governance model. They do not care about our people. The current government is far worse than the colonial governments.
All they do is plunder our national wealth. I will not shy away from participating in any process which can lead to changing the way we are governed. The constitution provides for that.
We work with progressive citizens across the globe who believe in a free, just and equal world. Our allies are both from the East and the West.
CM: How many members does Artuz represent?
OM: We represent all teachers in Zimbabwe and defend the right to education for the almost five million learners in Zimbabwe.
CM: Teachers, including your members, are currently engaged in industrial action. What are your grievances?
OM: Teachers are demanding urgent solutions to the challenges that have crippled our education sector. The incapacitation crisis has to be urgently resolved.
The value of teachers’ salaries has to be restored to the October 2018 era. Secondly, government should fund basic education as prescribed by section 75 of the constitution.
This issue is now urgent as 83% of our people are now living in poverty; they can no longer afford education. Lastly, we call upon government to fund the implementation of standard operating procedures.
CM: Some government workers’ representatives such as Apex Council have often accused you of taking a confrontational approach as opposed to dialogue. What is your take on this accusation?
OM: Our government is still to legislate a legitimate dialoguing platform in the spirit of section 65 of the constitution. We try by all means to chase them for dialogue; unfortunately dialogue is not in their DNA. The parliamentary arm of government is more progressive but the executive arm is arrogant.
CM: Have teachers have been told to go for vaccination against Covid-19. What has been the rate of inoculation uptake?
OM: Very few teachers have been vaccinated. There is lack of information on when and where teachers can access vaccination. It seems like government is posturing on vaccination, they want to pretend to be vaccinating yet they are not releasing enough information to our people.
CM: How safe are the learners, including those in rural areas, given fears of a third Covid-19 wave?
OM: Our schools are potential super spreaders of the virus. Majority of our learners have immunity on their side, but the teachers and parents have a higher risk of fatalities. Vaccinating all households with learners going to schools and the teachers would give herd immunity.
CM: Do you think enough has been done to ensure the safety of learners?
OM: National adherence to the standard operating procedures stands at a pathetic 25%. Our schools are not safe for our learners.
CM: What is the future of Zimbabwe’s education system?
OM: The future of Zimbabwe’s education is bleak. If we continue on the current trajectory, we are heading towards a catastrophe. We need to redesign the national education strategy. Artuz is running the “5 million voices for 5 million learners” campaign as a measure to rally citizens to defend our education system.
CM: And what is your parting message to Artuz members and all the teachers out there?
OM: We have a responsibility on our shoulders to protect the education of our children and that of future generations. Let us escalate the fight for US dollar salaries so that we win and quickly get back to the classroom.