Zimbabwean teachers are leaving home in droves. Low salaries and poor working conditions have made life unbearable for them. It is estimated that since last year almost every school in the country has lost at least three to four teachers.
Hundreds of teachers have flooded the South African office of the Progressive Teachers of Zimbabwe association. Most left Zimbabwe for Britain. Those who failed to get into the United Kingdom have settled in South Africa.
It is estimated that there are 10 000 Zimbabwean teachers in South Africa of those about 1 500 are registered members of the association.
Various reasons have been given for their flight from Zimbabwe.
The decrease in government expenditure on education has strained relations between the state, teachers, learners and parents. Low salaries and poor working conditions have demotivated teachers and support staff. But, unlike South Africa, protest for higher salaries is not tolerated by the Zimbabwean government.
But it’s not just the meagre salaries and poor working conditions that are chasing teachers out of Zimbabwe.
Historically, teachers in the country have played an important leadership role in the development of communities and society; they are central in the evolution and shaping of social norms, values and opinions. As they invariably help shape political opinion too, teachers in Zim- babwe operate under the watchful eye of government. And they have been blamed for the emergence of a strong political opposition, particularly in the rural areas. This has forced teachers to flee in droves.
Because many teachers became embroiled in politics, directly or indirectly, they were suspected by the government of encouraging communities to vote for the opposition. As a result, many were persecuted.
Some left because they could not stand the economic meltdown in the country that left their salaries so low they could not afford to pay fees for their own children in the schools where they taught.
Others left Zimbabwe to join their partners who were working in South Africa already. Many left in search of a better life.
Their flight from the country has affected schooling. Some institutions lost principals who had been effective in promoting the high standards of education that previously had made Zimbabwe the envy of many neighbouring countries. Their departure has left a vacuum that cannot be filled.
In many cases young, dynamic and energetic educators fled, leaving schools without any teachers. There is a school in the Plumtree district, in Matebeleland near the Botswana border, that was forced to close down because there was only one teacher left. And there are reports that many other schools in the country are in the same situation.
Doctor Ncube is the chairperson of the Progressive Teachers of Zimbabwe