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Zimbabwe Teachers Strike Averted

Last week, the unions, two aligned to President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF and one independent, threatened to strike if salaries were not increased beyond $100 a month.

But many teachers polled by VOA around Harare say they had no intention of going on strike. They say the call for a strike had come from ZANU-PF, not from the majority of teachers, who understand the government's lack of funds.

Raymond Majongwe, president of the independent Progressive Teachers Union, says the threat of the strike was mostly being played out in the media and was fueled by statements from the ZANU-PF-aligned Zimbabwe Teachers Association.

He says a strike had not been widely debated and many teachers outside the urban areas did not know it was pending.

Majongwe told VOA that, before the formation of the unity government, the Zimbabwe Teachers Association had never spoken out on matters that affect the welfare of teachers. He says the union had remained silent when teachers, like himself, were persecuted by Mr. Mugabe's government. ZimTA officials were not available for comment Tuesday.

Since the unity government was formed, teachers receive their pay in foreign currency. They now earn enough to buy food.

Education Minister David Coltart tells VOA that, before schools reopened for the current term, he and unions had agreed that teachers' children would receive free education; banks would be encouraged to reduce their charges to teachers; and, they would negotiate a five-year benefits plan for teachers.

Coltart also says school fees will be dramatically slashed, but that parents will still have to pay a small amount each term.

Coltart says Zimbabwe's education infrastructure is a national tragedy. Even first-class schools, which used to compete favorably with private schools, are now shells, without windows, chairs and desks. He says plumbing no longer exists

Coltart also tells VOA that few schools have text books and that, in his view, Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF government severely neglected education for the last 20 years.

Zimbabwe's tertiary education system is also in a state of virtual collapse. Less than 70 students registered for the second semester at the main University of Zimbabwe campus, last month, because students could not pay fees in American dollars. Students say not a single toilet is working on the large campus in Harare.

A large private university says its foreign funds were looted by the central bank, last year, and it cannot open for business this semester.