Zimbabwe's High Court has voided the government's three-month suspension of striking teachers, ruling the ministry of education overstepped its authority. The teachers went on strike last week over poor salaries just as schools were set to reopen after a long break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Analysts say children's education has been caught in the crossfire.
Zimbabwe’s High Court has ruled the suspension of striking teachers by Evelyn Ndlovu, Zimbabwe’s minister of primary and secondary education, was illegal.
Noble Chinhanu of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum represented the teachers in court.
"We managed to present our arguments before the court and the judge has given us an order to the effect that the press statement that was issued by the minister of primary and secondary education is illegal and unconstitutional," said Chinhanu. "We managed to prove that our client has a right not to be suspended in such a manner which was in violation of public service regulations of the nation.”
Government officials have not commented on the court ruling.
Schools in Zimbabwe closed last year during the COVID-19 pandemic and had been due to reopen last week.
Gibson Nyikadzino, an independent political analyst, says the government and teachers must settle the strike quickly because students continue to be the losers.
"We are seeing a lot of agitation and politicization of this from the employees," said Nyikadzino. "They are not keen to listen to what the employer is saying. Their parties that are being affected as a result of this, so what has to be done is go to the tripartite negotiating forum and in the spirit find a consensus.”
The tripartite he refers to is the government, the workers and private companies.
Sifiso Ndlovu from the Zimbabwe Teachers Association – the country’s largest teachers union – says educators want to return to work, but need more pay to sustain themselves.
"There are some members who are unable to travel: those who are far distant schools. They are finding it difficult because of the resources," said Ndlovu. "And there are some who are saying while we are within the school environs, we still find it difficult to find food for subsistence. That is what is mitigating against 100 percent attendance. We hope that after pay day (next week Tuesday) things will get back to normal. But that does not mean that the teachers are happy with the remuneration that they are getting. They still want some more.”
Taungana Ndoro, is the spokesman for Zimbabwe’s ministry of primary and secondary education and says the situation in schools now is “encouraging.”
"We have gone round in government and non-government schools, and we are quite impressed by the teaching and learning that is going on," Ndoro said. "Of course there are a few schools here and there which still face a bit of challenges.”
The pay dispute goes back to October 2018, when the government stopped paying civil servants in U.S. dollars, switching to the reintroduced Zimbabwean dollar. The new currency has steadily lost value, effectively reducing teacher wages to about $100 a month. The teachers want the $540 a month they were getting in 2018.
Last week the teachers rejected the government’s offer of a 20 percent pay raise along with some incentives, such as housing loans.