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Striking teachers beaten up, forced to eat chalk in crackdown
February 22, 2007

HARARE – Police yesterday immediately followed a ban on political rallies and protests in the capital’s restive townships by beating up schoolteachers striking over low salaries. 

The attack on teachers at several schools in Harare came after weekend clashes between anti-riot police and opposition Movement for Democratic Change supporters who had gathered in the high-density suburb of Highfield for a High Court-sanctioned rally. 

The crackdown also came as the main Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) announced it had joined the strike started by the smaller but militant Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) on February 5. 

ZIMTA represents the majority of Zimbabwe’s 96 000 teachers and their resolution to join the strike might have incensed the government. 

Armed police details reportedly stormed Shiriyedenga, Ruvheneko and Chembira schools in the high-density suburb of Glen Norah, allegedly assaulting teachers and forcing some of them to eat chalk. 

Eyewitnesses said schoolchildren had to scurry home, with some scaling perimeter fences and walls to safety. 

“I went for an in situ inspection at the affected schools in Glen Norah but when I got there they had been closed,” said PTUZ secretary-general Raymond Majongwe. 

“There was nobody at the schools but we got reports that children had to stampede out of schools as soldiers harassed and beat up teachers. We understand they also went to schools in Epworth (a semi-urban settlement just outside Harare),” added Majongwe. 

Police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena could not be reached for comment. 

However, the government last week called in the military and spy agents to intimidate teachers into backing off the industrial action, which Education

Minister Aeneas Chigwedere said was meant to serve a “political agenda”. 

President Robert Mugabe, who turned 83 yesterday, is battling to preempt possible civil unrest as doctors, nurses, university lecturers and lately schoolteachers strike to press for higher remuneration and better working conditions. 

“It’s nonsensical for anyone to say the teachers’ action is a political issue. It’s a matter of life and death because surely one cannot survive on a monthly salary of $84 000,” Majongwe said. 

Teachers rank among the worst paid civil servants, earning between $84 000 and $150 000 – meaningless figures with inflation nearly 1 600 percent and the breadline pegged at $460 000 for a standard family of five people. 

Chigwedere warned the striking teachers might be fired and replaced or alternatively have their salaries cut and withheld. 

However, Majongwe vowed the teachers would not end the strike until their demands were met. “The strike continues as long as our minimal demands are not met,” he said. 

ZIMTA president Tendai Chikowore said: “The action is countrywide and we won’t stop until government comes up with something better.” - ZimOnline


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