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Teachers' Strike Threat Next Week Seen as Blow to Zimbabwe's Unity Government 

Zimbabwe's teachers say they will go on strike when the next semester opens next week after the inclusvie government said it has no money to increase their salaries. The teachers' return to school after the unity government was formed February was the first success of the new administration.

The three Zimbabwe teachers unions have vowed not to return to school for the second semester next week saying the unity government has failed to fulfill its pledge to increase the monthy wage beyond $100 a month.

The largest union, the Zimbabwe Teachers Assocation, which for years would not confront the Zanu PF government of President Robert Mugabe, says there has been no "concrete response to address the issue of teachers salaries."

Teachers quit their jobs in droves in the last two years and by the end of last year few government schools were operating. In 2008 children had little formal schooling, in a country which at one time had the best educational results and literacy in Africa.

The unity government has little income and says it can not attract donors to provide any extra cash for teachers until all conditions of the political agreement, which led to the unity government, are met.

Education minister David Coltart, a senator from the Movement for Democratic Change party, said Wednesday that he was sympathetic to the teachers' call as he recognizes that it is impossible to live on 100 dollars a month. He said the goverment is in a dire situation and his "hands are tied."

Coltart said he has one last meeting with the unions Thursday, and he hoped the acting finance and public service ministers would attend and explain the difficulties facing the inclusive governemnt.

He also said the return of teachers to work in February was the first sign that the inclusive government might be able to turn Zimbabwe around.

If the teachers went on strike next week, he conceded, it would be a serious blow to the stability of the government.

There are about 7,000 schools in Zimbabwe, most of them for primary education.

At full strength there should be 140,000 teachers. About 90 000 were paid at the end of January, and Coltart said he is not sure yet whether all of those who were paid were legitimate teachers.

He said a survey was not yet complete of 120 schools comparing the paperwork and documentation at his ministry with teachers who are actually at the schools.

Tendai Chikowore, president of the 45,000 strong Zimbabwe Teachers Association, said his members could not meet their basic needs and that in the absence of a pay increase, the government should waive school fees for teachers' children.

A few teachers who did not want to be named, or the schools where they teach identified, said not all of them wanted to go on strike.

Two teachers interviewed by VOA this week said they believed the strike would not achieve anything except to undermine the Movement for Democratic Change party as they knew there was no money to pay them more until Zimbabwe's economy revived.

Another teacher said he believed the teachers had been misled by promises of better pay and that they had gone back to work in February under false pretences.