Page last updated at 00:25 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Harare teacher: 'I can't afford to work'

A tomato vendor in Harare in 2008

A 40-year-old Zimbabwean primary school teacher in a high-density area of the capital, Harare, tells the BBC News website why he is not reporting for duty at the start of the new academic year - which has already been delayed by two weeks.

It's not possible for us to go back to work. A week ago we got paid and the amount we found in our accounts was 30 trillion Zimbabwe dollars for the month.

On that day it was equivalent to US$3 (2.15), but three days later, because of inflation, it was worth only US$1 (71p) - and you can't really do anything with a dollar.

I survive like the rest of the Zimbabweans survive - vending

My colleagues who travel to work need US$2 a day, as a one-way journey costs the equivalent of US$1.

Actually, none of the teachers left at my school have reported to work since 2 September, when we resolved we had to be paid an amount that was reasonable.

We are on strike, although it's more that we don't have the capacity to go to work without money for transport and proper food.

Sadly, the more than 1,000 children at the school stopped turning up at the beginning of October after they realised the teachers were not coming back.

I survive like the rest of the Zimbabweans survive - vending. We sell anything we can lay our hands on.

School children in Harare buying refreshments from a vendor (November 2004)

I go into town and buy a 20kg bag of maize meal, which costs about US$7.

Then I come back to the high-density area and repack it into between 12 and 15 packs and resell them for US$1 because many families can only afford enough to cook one meal.

That's how I'm making a living now.

I've got a young brother who has a better-paying job; in fact he gets part of his salary in foreign currency - so sometimes he's the one who gives me some groceries.


Sometimes parents are also willing to pay for tuition for their children. I charge about US$3 a head for this - at the moment I have about three kids whom I teach so that's about US$9 a week.

It is true to say some female teachers have really turned wild
Since last year, I have also been teaching my two children - who are of primary-school age.

My wife was retrenched from a catering company, so to make money now she prepares food at home and then goes into town and sells the lunches to clients.

Some of my colleagues do cross-border trading; they go into South Africa, they buy some goods and bring them back home and resell them.

Others have totally gone to South Africa and they are doing different kinds of jobs there.

One teacher is selling newspapers in Johannesburg; one is working in a restaurant in Cape Town and the third one is just doing some clerical work for a company in Cape Town.

I wanted to leave too when the crisis here started around the year 2000.

But after some of my friends had left, I realised they couldn't make a decent living - 200 to 300 rand (US$20-US$30; 14-21) a month for selling papers is inadequate to provide for a family.

Classroom vandalised

It is true to say some female teachers have really turned wild.

Children picking up maize spilt from a truck (December 2004)
School attendance fell to 20% by the end of last year
They go into town dressed up and in the evenings in the night clubs look for rich clients - probably the money-changers, who can afford to buy their bodies.

It's really happening.

I first got a second job around 2002 when our incomes became inadequate - then I started to give extra lessons after school.

Then around 2007 it got really bad. We were involved in a lot of strikes and that's when I decided to start the vending, taking the odd day off to trade until stopping completely in September.

When I started work in 1991, we could afford most of the things on a teacher's salary.

The number of children in the class has remained almost the same, but what has changed in the 17 years is that classroom materials are no longer being provided and the equipment has become dilapidated.

For example, I went to my school last week to check on how things were and one of the auxiliary staff was telling me that one of the classrooms had been broken into.

Some furniture was stolen and the stationery as well.

Total collapse

Under normal circumstances, the school is supposed to employ 31 teachers, but due to migration, we were down to 21 in September and of them only about 14 were qualified teachers.

People in Zimbabwe buying goods from street vendors
I miss teaching very much because it is my calling
I have been informed by one of the parents who is on my school's committee that they are contemplating raising foreign currency so that teachers can be paid from the parents' pockets.

But I don't see how that can be practised because most of the parents are poor.

Unless something is done in terms of the political settlement - if the political leaders agreed and then things stabilised and there was a common focus - I don't see how these things can be solved.

The school system is in total collapse and in order for things to work again probably a unity government is needed so that things can be put in place.

I miss teaching very much because it is my calling. I miss that feeling of pride I feel when students do well in life.

Also I like sports very much and I used to go with children for sports and basketball. I'm no longer involved in that and that too I miss very much.

It is very depressing indeed.

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