Teachers played a key role in the liberation struggle for Zimbabwe. Both Zanu and Zapu, the two liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, placed great emphasis on education, and ran schools in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.
Tens of thousands of young people attained their primary and secondary education whilst they were refugees in these countries. Thousands of freedom fighters were also able to improve their education whilst they were in base camps in these countries. The two liberation movements sent thousands of young people to university, mainly in African countries, such as Botswana, Lesotho, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Algeria and Libya amongst many. Teachers played a noble role in the intellectual liberation of the country.
After Independence, teachers again came to the fore. With only a third of children able to obtain primary education and a mere four percent able to obtain secondary education before Independence, teachers played a monumental role in bringing about primary education for all in the 1980s and 1990s. They provided good quality secondary education under very difficult conditions. It is through their dedication that Zimbabweans today are able to find jobs all over the world.
More recently teachers in Zimbabwe became victims of political violence. Things became even worse by mid-2008, when education was almost totally disrupted, as Zanu PF youths took over schools, and in the process stopped educational activities from being carried out effectively. Teachers’ houses were torched, and many teachers were forced to flee from the rural areas. How did the teachers who fought for the liberation of Zimbabwe and built up the education system become the victims of the very youth they were supposed to educate?
The answer can be found in what has happened in Zimbabwe over the past decade and a half. Having achieved a high level of education for the majority in the 1980s up until the mid-1990s, things began to deteriorate. By 2000, 196 000 children who had enrolled in grade one eight years earlier, had dropped out of school. That is a lot of drop outs, and without secondary education these young people have little hope of a good future. There are few jobs in Zimbabwe for them, and they will not be able to find good jobs in the Diaspora without secondary and tertiary education. Tragically these young people, who have been forced to leave school through lack of fees and through the deterioration of the education system, have been victimised. They have been misled to vent their anger on teachers. They have utilised violence, including rape, on so-called “sell outs”, many of whom were teachers. Teachers were blamed for the large voter turnout for the two MDCs and Mavambo Kusile Dawn (MKD), against Zanu PF. In actual fact, teachers had little to do with the results of the March 2008 Elections. People, especially those in former Zanu PF strongholds, such as Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East and Mashonaland West, who were specially targeted for violence, were actually organised by their leaders within Zanu PF to vote for the Zanu PF parliamentary and senate candidates, but not for President Robert Mugabe. This strategy of theirs was known as “kicking the ball out of the football grounds”. How can teachers be blamed for a strategy which came from the divided Zanu PF itself??
Meanwhile the rapid devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar pauperised almost the whole population, in particular teachers who did not have land to grow their own food. By the end of 2008 teachers were being paid the equivalent of US$2 per month. In the rural areas, parents had to provide food for their teachers. By September 2008 teachers had gone on strike, protesting against the fact that they could not feed themselves or their families.
On World Teachers’ Day, it is incumbent on all Zimbabweans to focus on what is good for the nation as a whole, rather than what is good for a small privileged group who are prepared to exploit and criminalise unemployed youths to further their corrupt hold on power. Teachers should concentrate on their key role of building a better Zimbabwe through education. They must ensure that the 196 000 dropouts a year are not forgotten, but can catch up educationally. They must also help in the education of the communities they live in. The nation as a whole should concentrate too on building a better Zimbabwe, and supporting our teachers who are aiming at the same goal.