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Teachers across Zimbabwe struck for three weeks last month over demands for higher pay, closing schools and causing parents to worry that their children might lose a second school year to Zimbabwe's economic crisis. The country's unity government is coming under increasing pressure as it struggles to raise funds for education and other basics in the face of depleted revenues caused by the country's economic crisis.
Teachers, like most civil servants in Zimbabwe, have been earning about $100 a month. The power sharing government offered this salary to all civil servants after its inauguration in March.
Raymond Majongwe is president of the Progressive Teachers Union, one of two main unions for teachers. He says teachers want $500 a month, but that he decided to end the strike because it was hurting the children.
"The best way for teachers is to engage, go back to the schools and teach and allow their leadership to engage government," he said. "Then more positive results are going to come."
Zimbabwe's education system has been in decline for a decade due to falling government revenues and an exodus of teachers. Analysts blame the crisis on the policies of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. But the party blames it on sanctions imposed by western countries.
Education Minister David Coltart is a member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), brought into the government as part of the power sharing agreement between Mr. Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Coltart is sympathetic to teachers and other civil servants.
"The problem that we face, however, as a government, is that our economy is in state of near-collapse," he explained. "Our treasury coffers are almost bare."
The United Nations recently donated $70 million for school materials, but donor countries hesitate to subsidize salaries for fear the funds will be diverted by the government.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions groups 350,000 workers. Its president, Lovemore Matombo, says most Zimbabwean workers are in similar straits.
"The workers now know that the economy has started to stabilize and that there should be an increase of salaries," he said. "Should they fail to do that, there is very much this feeling among workers that we should take action."
He says if some worker demands are not met, there could be a strike before the end of the year placing more pressure on the unity government as it struggles to revive the economy.