By Robert Tapfumaneyi
MANY poorly paid Zimbabwean schoolteachers have literally abandoned the once venerated chalk, tie and suit combination for the dirt of illegal gold panning in some districts in Mashonaland Central province, it has emerged.
The teachers now plying their trade under the earth like termites took advantage of prolonged closure of schools following the Covid-19 pandemic in March.
The government has since ordered schools re-opening using a phased approach, but some teachers have not returned to work, opting to remain gold panning, buying and selling, among other extracurricular activities.
NewZimbabwe.com was in Mashonaland Central province recently to find some educators have not heeded the call to return to the classroom as they have found the gold rush a suitable replacement to their misery.
“We have been in the field since the closure of the schools because of coronavirus and it came as a blessing in disguise and we are earning more than we have been earning while in the classroom,” said one teacher in Rushinga who requested anonymity.
“When government said some classes should open, we have been checking if some of us have gone back to school but even headmasters are not attending to their office duties opting to do personal business to supplement their modest salaries.”
In Mazowe, another teacher said there was more reward in gold panning than what they took home in terms of monthly wages from government.
“I am not sure what amount of threats will make us go back to the classroom; worse still, a lot of kids have not returned to school for various reasons,” he said.
Robson Chere Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ATRUZ) secretary general said educators have been reduced to vagabonds.
“Teachers have been reduced to beggars due to slave wages they are receiving from the employer and they are now depending on food donated to them by community members and well-wishers,” Chere told NewZimbabwe.com.
“We have recorded a higher number of suicide cases and domestic violence cases due to incapacitation.
“Indeed, in some areas, teachers are resorting to gold panning as a means to survive, we are urging the employer to urgently address the livelihoods issues of our teachers by paying them a living wage so as to restore the dignity of our teachers.”
Last week, government threatened to replace teachers who have not been reporting for duty since examination classes resumed post-lockdown period.
Teachers have declared they are incapacitated and are demanding that the employer increases their salaries to US$550 or equivalent in local currency.
Government says it has no money to meet the demands.