HISTORY seems to be repeating itself, as Zimbabwe backslides towards the 2008 calamity. Zimbabweans will experience an even more challenging year in 2020 as the country faces another drought, which is compounded by an economic crisis characterised by power cuts of up 18 hours daily, acute foreign currency shortages, runaway inflation of over 400%, an angry populace and agitated workforce.
According to the World Food Programme, Zimbabwe is now rated among the worst humanitarian crises in the world with close to 8 million people in both urban and rural areas facing food shortages.
The new government, which came topower in November 2017 after toppling former president Robert Mugabe in a military coup, is battling a myriad of problems, which could see the country slide back to the 2008 socio-economic and political disaster.
Zimbabwe went through an economic meltdown during the 2007-2008 hyperinflationary era, which ravaged the economy, destroyed savings and pensions and decimated the Zimbabwean dollar. Zimbabweans are still recovering from the emotional and financial trauma experienced during that period. Hyperinflation between 2007 and 2008 forced many teachers to abandon their jobs to seek other ways of survival. Many schools closed. An estimated 20 000 teachers left the country and dropout rates rose dramatically. The pass rate for grade seven, O-and-A-level examinations plunged drastically. 2008 is beckoning.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration is facing an education and health crisis unless the collective bargaining process is successful. A successful negotiation is crucial. The government is meeting with civil servants today to negotiate salary increases. It is not clear whether government schools will open next week after teachers threatened to strike over salaries. The teachers warned that they will not report for work when schools open unless the government accedes to their demands to be paid a salary indexed against the United States dollar.
This is compounding the situation after many schools increased fees. Zimbabweans generally feel that education has now been privatised and is only for those who can afford it. The litany of government’s failures is well documented. Nowhere is this more evident than in the country’s rural areas, where primary and secondary school infrastructure is crumbling to ruins because of decades of neglect. The schools are stretched to breaking point by increased enrolment without financial resources to match.
The country cannot afford to paralyse the education system at a time the public health sector has virtually collapsed.Medical doctors, citing incapacitation, have been on strike for more than four months, dealing a mighty blow on an already collapsing public health system.
Government needs to find a lasting solution to the grievances being raised by civil servants. Until then the country will plunge deeper into economic and political turmoil.