HARARE — Zimbabwean teachers went on strike Wednesday demanding a 150 percent pay rise and an end to violent attacks by militant supporters of President Robert Mugabe.
Takavafira Zhou, president of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe which called the strike, said about 25,000 of its members downed tools.
Teachers earn about $200 (140 euros) a month and want a raise to $500 — the monthly amount required by an average family of five, according to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe.
Teachers, especially in rural areas, have been the targets of attacks by pro-Mugabe militants who accuse them of backing the veteran president’s rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Teachers are often used to staff rural polling stations, and Mugabe supporters blamed them for his party’s poor showing in 2008, when his ZANU-PF lost control of parliament and he was forced into an inconclusive run-off with Tsvangirai.
The country’s public-sector workers, particularly teachers, nurses and doctors, have been striking on and off for better salaries and working conditions since 2008.
Zhou said about half the union’s urban members had heeded the strike call and about 75 percent in rural areas, adding teachers in one area northeast of Harare were threatened with violence if they participated.
There was no immediate response from the ministry of education.
Teachers also want a review of their housing and transport allowance and the removal of “ghost workers” from the government payroll.
Zimbabwe has 105,000 teachers on the payroll, but Zhou’s union estimates only about 77,000 are actually working.
Inflated payroll numbers are a problem throughout the civil service, with Finance Minister Tendai Biti estimating that about one-third of the government’s 230,000 employees don’t actually exist.