Understanding the Zimbabwean Teacer’s plight

July 2, 2009

“Poverty and the breakdown of family life have secondary effects. Children wander about the streets of the townships because they have no schools to go to, or no money to enable them to go to school, or no parents at home to see that they go to school, because both parents (if there be two) have to work to keep the family alive. This leads to a breakdown in moral standards, to an alarming rise in illegitimacy, and to growing violence which erupts not only politically but everywhere.” Nelson Mandela.

When Nelson Mandela said these words, he had no idea, I’m sure, that his wisdom on that day would manifest itself as an unfortunate reality in Zimbabwe. I am convinced, having visited some of the townships here that these words are painfully true. Because the schools have not opened due to the government’s failure to compensate the teachers for their efforts, the villages were full of young people with nothing to do and no one to ensure that their energies were channeled in a constructive direction. In the image above is my own grandmother sitting with some her numerous grandchildren. Some of them are too young to go to school but for those who are old enough, they have not been in school since about august last year.

As a result of the degradation of the educational delivery system, the reality on the ground is that all the social structures that had come through the important emphasis on education are starting to come apart. What this has resulted in is that in the communal areas, the girl child is the first one to be stopped from going to school if it is too expensive. On my many walks through the village I encountered one such young girl named Nyaradzo who is aged 16 and only has primary level education. I left primary school when I was 12, which means that even if she were to enter high school she will be 4 years older than any other student in her class. She had to stop school because her family could not afford to educate both their male and female children.

Beyond the obvious problems associated with not being in school, a more sinister development is taking place in villages. I was shocked to arrive at our homestead in the village to find that my 17 year old cousin has eloped to get married to someone not much older than herself. Upon further inspection one actually discovered that there were some in the village who actually thought that 17 was even too old to be single given that the schools are not open. The general consensus among those in the village is that if the schools are not open then there is no need to keep young women in the homestead if they can be sent off to get married. As I walked through the village I met several girls who have just entered their teens who are already pregnant. They will be mothers before they have done even their second year of high school.

My aunt tells me of a deepening crisis within the village in which she lives. My cousin, her son, also recently fell into the same pit of despair as his girlfriend (now wife) is now the not so proud mother of a beautiful baby boy. His new wife is not educated and he himself has A levels but is now torn between two lovers, whether to feed his new wife and child or to carry on with education, his dilemma deepens as there is no food, and the educational sector has collapsed. His situation is desperate but not unique, he along with many other Zimbabweans in the rural areas is stuck and the government simply cannot come to his rescue.

There are obvious reasons why the sector has collapsed but I think it wise at this stage to just highlight why it is so difficult for teachers to even entertain the idea of teaching when their salaries cannot even allow them to put food on the table. She explains that one cannot be expected to enter a classroom to teach when one cannot feed or clothe his or her own children to attend the same school, let alone pay the school fees. The Zimbabwean currency is virtually useless and largely avoided by all public transport operators. This effectively means that unless you are earning foreign currency somehow, you are not able to travel, buy food or meet your obligations, whatever they may be.
The salary of a teacher as far as I understand is about $25 billion Zimbabwe dollars. My aunt explains to me that as a teacher in the rural areas she needs to travel into the city in order to collect her pay and then go back to her village to use the funds for upkeep and her family. The problem with that arrangement is that it costs about R140 South African rands to go town on the bus and back and that is all of her entire salary for the month and much more. At The exchange rate of about $1 billion Zimbabwe dollars to 1 South African rand, a teacher’s salary translates to just about R25 which clearly cannot meet the costs of travel let alone anything else. To illustrate this point further I went into a grocery store in one township to see what I could buy if I had $25 billion dollars. These are the prices I encountered:

With $25 billion I would have been able to buy 2 litres of cooking oil, a kilogram of pork meat and a kilogram of beef and the money would be finished. I think I need not explain any further as to why teachers refuse to be exploited in this manner. Now the situation is such that those Zimbabwe dollars are not accepted in any grocery stores, department stores or fuel stations but civil servants are continuing to be paid in local currency.

As it stands the government has just announced that school are not going to open as was planned. They sent out a statement stating that the opening would be delayed by two weeks as they have received notice from teachers who are not prepared to teach under the current conditions. What will happen after two weeks remains to be seen but I can confidently state that the official extension of the school holidays is an admission of a failure that has been obvious to all those who actually attend school and those who are tasked with the huge mandate of having to teach in these schools. While the government seemingly buys more time to get its act together, there are increasing numbers of new young mothers, more permanent dropouts and an increasingly growing population of children born into severe poverty whose parents have no qualifications and who will surely find life difficult once the country gets past this seemingly insurmountable hurdle. Those in power in this phase in the life of the country will surely be held responsible for creating a generation that will without a doubt be dependent on others for survival. I am Munyaradzi Hoto and I am a Zimbabwean.

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