Saturday, October 28, 2006
By Elizabeth Bara, ASAP Executive Director
“Our optimism is Zimbabwe’s greatest commodity” explains Willie Dhlandhlara, ASAP’s Zimbabwe Country Director, during our recent conversation. We were discussing why, despite all projections, the Zimbabwe economy keeps right on going. Each month the brain drain continues, and one of the greatest losses to the country is the exodus of skilled teaching professionals. The following article helps one to understand the situation.
From The Mail & Guardian (SA), 27 October
Lessons from Zim
Zimbabwe’s loss is set to be South Africa’s gain, as the education department casts covetous eyes on the growing pool of highly qualified Zimbabwean schoolteachers who have fled their home country. The department’s Director General, Duncan Hindle, told the Mail & Guardian that it is targeting Zimbabweans in a plan that will simultaneously encourage South African high school teachers to improve their skills. The idea involves encouraging local teachers to take sabbaticals to upgrade in subjects such as maths, and to replace these teachers for the period of their studies with suitably qualified Zimbabweans. The government has previously spoken of recruiting teachers from Cuba and India to meet growing shortages in scarce skills areas such as maths and science. As part of the strategy, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel’s medium-term budget this week announced that 900 bursaries will be available next year for teachers who want to pursue postgraduate qualifications in maths, science and life skills.
It is not known exactly how many Zimbabwean teachers live in South Africa, but the number runs into thousands, said Doctor Ncube, chairperson of the South African branch of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe. The union recently started compiling a register of these teachers, and has 500 on its books. However, Ncube said the majority were in fields like catering and the security industry. Many had entered the country illegally, and even those with the right paperwork had difficulty in registering professionally as teachers in South Africa. He said: "The few who are teaching endure terrible working conditions in private schools, earning R1 000 or R2 000 a month. If they don’t have the right legal documents, they often have no work contracts, and are exploited as vulnerable cheap labour. If you question your salary, they show you the gate, and another teacher walks in to replace you." Very low teachers’ salaries in Zimbabwe, inflation "that has crippled everyone", and political factors explain the flood south, Ncube said. "In the 2002 elections, the government accused especially rural teachers of encouraging communities to support the opposition MDC, and persecuted and punished these teachers, often depriving them of salaries."
In some Johannesburg inner-city private schools, 95% to 100% of staff are Zimbabwean, Ncube said. "We’re seeing good results there. Township communities are bringing their children to those schools - so they have already accepted us and have faith in us." He said he would welcome a formal meeting with the education department, at which he would supply data on teachers’ qualifications. One of those on Ncube’s list is Benjamin Ndlovu, a 37-year-old university graduate and qualified high school teacher of biology and geography. He came to South Africa in August last year, desperate to escape the Zimbabwean government’s "general neglect of teachers, who are often not paid", he told the M&G. "All I want is a job in a South African public school," he said, "where I know I can earn respect, because the South African government respects teachers, as well as a decent salary. We want recognition as human beings whose services will be applauded." Despite his qualifications, Ndlovu ekes out a living as a primary school teacher at a private institution in Johannesburg, earning a mere R1 700 per month. "And many of us Zimbabwean teachers here earn less than that."
Francine de Clerq, a lecturer in Wits University’s school of education, said Zimbabwean teacher qualifications are excellent. This is partly because of the foundation provided by the country’s school system, which is modelled on Britain’s. Zimbabwean teachers also have the advantage of excellent English, whereas "teachers from Cuba or India are often hardly understood by our learners". The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union media officer, Jon Lewis, said Sadtu has no objection in principle to the recruitment of foreign teachers to fill specific shortages. "Caveats are that we must first use any unemployed South African teachers; that local teachers be allowed to retrain in scarce areas; and that foreign teachers must have full professional status with conditions of service equal to those of South Africans."
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