Page last updated at 07:35 GMT, Tuesday, 25 August 2009 08:35 UK

Eyewitness: Zimbabwe school of fear

Zimbabwe schoolchildren, file image
Last year many classrooms were left entirely without teachers

One of Zimbabwe's many unqualified teachers talks about her fears about returning to work after the current holidays, saying she faces intimidation from officials, crammed classrooms, chronic staff shortages and the possibility of going another month without pay.

She says little has changed despite the power-sharing government formed in February between President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF and the former opposition MDC.

I was praying that I could come home to Chinhoyi for the holidays and forget the intimidation we have been through.

I work at a village school in Mashonaland West province.

Though I have not been paid since February, I have never uttered a word because a local Zanu-PF official is the prime suspect in the violence which gripped the area last year.

Teachers remain suspects in the eyes of these war veterans and youths

He visits all the schools occasionally and at times he is accompanied by youths and war veterans who were part of his terror gang.

They move around with Zanu-PF party regalia, forcing us all to remain with them like captives. It's mental torture to anyone from the area. Rural folks need counselling for what they went through last year.

The official last visited the school in May.

We all froze as he spoke, as this was the man who had tormented village folks in the disputed elections.

One MDC supporter was brutally murdered by the gang he led, but the suspects have impunity because they are supporters of Zanu-PF.

The official tried to discuss the challenges the country is going through and blamed Western countries - among them Britain. As he talked, no-one wanted to give their own ideas fearing that we may cross his line of thought.

Some male teachers joined the discussion just to please him, and for the whole day we could not excuse ourselves, even for lunch.

Teachers remain suspects in the eyes of these war veterans and youths. They still believe teachers support the MDC.

Teacher's burden

This has been my second year as temporary teacher in the village.

It was easy for me to be employed as a teacher because the area where I work has large numbers of untrained teachers.

I hope that sanity may prevail if the inclusive government pushes for a new constitution

In fact at our school the acting headmaster has only recently graduated from college. We assist him with administrative issues.

My class has 54 pupils instead of the required 38 or 40 because of a high turnout of pupils this year - hunger and politics disturbed them last year.

The shortage of teachers has been a burden to us as we have more children in a class and there is less attention to a child's challenges.

I can safely say we are not able to give the children our best.

Basic needs

Temporary teachers have been left unpaid because of bungling by district education officials.

Our forms were submitted to the Salary Service Bureau in Harare but were returned in February because of missing information. The officials haven't resubmitted them yet.

Zimbabwe map

This kind of bungling has affected nearly 10,000 teachers - qualified and unqualified - throughout the country.

I have survived without a salary since February because my family send me groceries every month.

Generally groceries worth US$40 can last me the whole month.

All I need is salt, cooking oil, sugar and lotion and it's easy to get mealie-meal [maize flour] from local people. They hold teachers in high esteem and can assist wherever possible since some had better harvests last season.

Right now schools are closed and I have travelled back to Chinhoyi hoping that I may regain the strength and go back to my school.

I hope that sanity may prevail if the inclusive government pushes for a new constitution where there will be rule of law and those who committed crimes will be arrested.

If that happens, normalcy could come back even in the villages.

I may go back because I want to be working and I have the passion to teach children in remote parts of the country.

I hope I will leave my own mark for a future generation.

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