Zimbabwe School Examination Council classes resumed on September 28 after a six months closure of schools as part of government’s efforts to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The three-pronged reopening of schools saw Grade 7, Form 4 and Upper Sixth resuming classes on September 28. Grade 6, Form 3 and Lower Sixth resume classes on October 26.
The last phase would see ECD A and B, Grades 1 to 5 and Forms 1 and 2 going back to school on November 9.
The phased reopening of schools was designed to ensure that there are manageable numbers in which children resume classes without the risk of a rise in Covid-19 positive cases.
After a long lay-off, the glitches would have been minimal as government had pulled all stops to ensure a smooth resumption of classes.
It seems, the government ignored a key constituency—the teachers who have boycotted classes citing poor working conditions.
They want government to peg their salaries to the October 2018 levels of US$475. Government on the other hand maintains that it has no capacity to pay the amounts demanded in foreign currency.
It recently announced that the US$75 Covid-19 allowance would now be paid in local currency at prevailing interbank rates.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa could have riled the teachers when he was quoted as saying the government would not be arm-twisted and those that have reported for work would be paid their salaries.
The losers in this impasse are the children who can only watch as the row between the government and its employees dims their future prospects.
Videos circulating on social media attest to the fact that it is now a free for all as students engage in delinquency with some boasting of taking drugs, taking advantage of the absence of teachers.
We do not think the US$475 demanded by the teachers is cast in stone.
What one can decipher from their demands is that they want better salaries that restore their lost status.
They know that the government has the resources as Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube is always talking of monthly surpluses.
They are convinced that the resources are there and it is the sharing of the cake which they detest.
An inspection of fuel guzzlers that populate the car parks every time top government bureaucrats are officiating at an event is an example commonly used to show extravagance in the midst of poverty.
For all his shortcomings, former President Robert Mugabe was catapulted to international status by his investment in education.
This has seen Zimbabweans occupying lofty positions at companies in US, UK and South Africa.
That solid education foundation is under threat.
History will record that it was under the Mnangagwa’s administration that the education sector reached a nadir.
The teachers seem to have crossed the Rubicon and unmoved by threats that salaries won’t be paid if they do not attend classes.
They are not swayed by government’s Father Christmas stance of increasing salaries when it deems so in the absence of negotiations.
It’s a zero sum game.