Zimbabwe teachers paid too late for Christmas after threatening to strike

In an effort to stave off a national teachers strike, the Zimbabwean government released funds on Tuesday to pay teachers who had gone without pay during the holiday season, says the largest teachers organisation that had threatened to not return to the classroom.

Robert Mugabe during his birthday party, February 2015
Robert Mugabe during his birthday party, February 2015 REUTERS/P. Bulawayo

"It’s a very sad Christmas, it’s a very sad holiday indeed,” Richard Gundane, the president of Zimta, the Zimbabwe Teachers Association, told RFI. “Teachers have gone into Christmas without salaries,” he adds.

Most of the teachers work far from their homes, and need their salaries just to return home, as well as buying groceries and preparing for the holidays, says Gundane.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa had originally said that workers would not be paid until 2016 due to government budget constraints, angering politicians and workers who were affected, including polices, nurses and the armed forces.

Part of the problem stems from lack of investment, coupled with restrictive investment policies. The money used to pay the country’s 300,000 civil servants comes from tax, but without foreign investment to spur economic activity, revenue from taxation is lower. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank will only consider new loans to Zimbabwe once the country has paid off all its debts.

Chinamasa got a grilling last week in parliament for bloated ministries and mismanagement. Ruling party infighting only makes it worse, says MP James Maridadi of opposition Movement for Democratic Change party.

“The reason why our economy is not existing right now is because of the political situation of the country. We are not able to attract investors,” says Maridadi, who represents constituents in Mabvuku Tafara in Harare.

“Our minister of finance cannot manoeuvre  he has no legroom. Where can he get tax from? The economy is dead. Our industries are operating at 20 per cent of capacity,” says the lawmaker.

He added that the government is at odds with itself, after Chinamasa declared that bonuses for civil servants would not be paid this year due to budget constraints. The finance minister’s decision was overturned by President Robert Mugabe.

MPs also made the case last week for cutting down the number of government ministries.
“Why do you need 75 ministers in a population of 12 million?” says Maridadi, adding that three million people are in the diaspora as economic refugees. “Yet, the United States, a country with a population of more than 300 million, you only have 50 ministers? Need I say more,” he adds.

Stopgap measures for paying teachers cannot go on, says Zimta President Gundane, especially when teachers are being paid towards the end of the month, rather than the usual middle of the month. He says that Zimta representatives will be meeting government officials next week to ensure this payment creep does not continue.

“Because the more we keep pushing these dates forwards, the more we might come up completing a whole cycle, and then in the end you don’t even know what happens, you end up losing a whole month,” says Gundane.

“We don’t need any carryover of this untidy situation going into the new year. It has been bad enough it must come to an end,” he adds.

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