Fear grips teachers ahead of elections

by Edgar Gweshe

Teachers have expressed fear of a recurrence of the 2008 polls scenario when they became targets of violence by Zanu (PF) youth militia who accused them of supporting the MDC-T.

Teachers have been targeted since the elections of 2000. The President of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, Takavafira Zhou, told The Zimbabwean that the resurfacing of youth militia bases in some rural schools across the country was sending shivers down the spines of teachers.

“For the last four years, nothing has been done to protect teachers from violence. Youth militia bases are resurfacing in rural schools and our greatest fear is that the perpetrators of violence are back ahead of elections and targeting teachers just as happened in 2008,” said Zhou.

Zhou said that the PTUZ lost eight of its members to political violence in the 2008 polls and expressed concern that there was no commitment from government to ensure “an environment where teachers are not subjected to violence”.

A report by Education International, an organisation of teachers and other education employees across the globe, says that PTUZ members were assaulted or abducted nearly every day during the June 2008 polls.

Zhou said: “The mention of elections spells danger for teachers. Youth militia and war veterans continue to victimize teachers without retribution and are even using schools as their bases yet schools should be free zones from any political activity."

According to a 2010 survey by the PTUZ, between 65 000-75 000 teachers were displaced due to violence by war veterans and Zanu (PF) youth militia. In 2008, UNESCO reported that 94 percent of rural schools had to close down as teachers had fled political persecution.

“We appeal to political players not to be reckless and usher in statements that lead to the victimization of teachers,” said Zhou.

A recent study by the Research and Advocacy Unit entitled “Fragility and Education in Zimbabwe: Assessing the impact of violence on education” revealed that violence against teachers is directly linked to the electoral cycle becoming more pronounced during election time.

“What makes the Zimbabwean case interesting is the fact that attacks on education take place without the state demonstrating apparent concern or taking steps to prevent this from happening,” reads part of the report.

The report noted that the challenges to Zanu (PF’s) hegemony over the years produced an apparent change in attitude to many institutions including the education sector.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association, Sifiso Ndlovu, challenged politicians to walk the talk in their calls for an end to political violence as a way of guaranteeing the safety of teachers during elections.

“We are saying that the good will being expressed verbally by political players should be translated into action so that we do not have a repeat of the harassment of teachers. Our desire is an environment where there is political tolerance despite our differences,’ said Ndlovu.