Interview: Rural teachers reflect on 10-year turbulent journey

Artuz president Obert Masaraure

THE Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) on March 1 celebrated their 10th anniversary, marking a decade-long journey full of trials and tribulations for the educators as they pushed their employer to pay them decent salaries.

NewsDay Features editor Jairos Saunyama (ND) recently interviewed Artuz president Obert Masaraure (OM) who chronicled how the journey began and what the union has achieved to date.

Below are the excerpts from the interview.

ND: It is 10 years after the formation of Artuz, what are your reflections?

OM: Artuz has transformed into a movement defending the rights of teachers, learners, parents and citizens in general. The movement is supported by a solid infrastructure that has kept it going in the context of massive repression from the dictatorship in Harare. The union was an idea mooted as early as 2009 when some of us were yet to join teaching. We, however, breathed life into it when the idea was shared to us.

At the initial stages of the union it was mainly engaged in protests against injustices. The union has added a new dimension of policy engagement to influence the governance of our education system. We have enjoyed unity among both the rank and file and the leadership. Internal contradictions have been managed in a democratic manner.

The union has made allies both at home and abroad. Our work has been recognised through different awards, including the African Human Rights Defenders of the Year from Frontline Defenders.

Ideologically, Artuz has not wavered from being a left-leaning teacher trade union fighting for pro-poor education. The union has scored victories through litigation, concerted advocacy and alliance building.

ND: The union is for rural teachers, why did you go for that constituency?

OM: Initially, the union solely represented rural teachers, but has since embraced all teachers. In 2013 when I was a teacher at Sibangani Secondary School in Silobela, we were accommodated in some inhabitable sanctuary. One night heavy rains fell and we could not sleep because the roof was seriously leaking. We had to engage in discussions over night.

Colleagues complained about the multiple challenges we were facing as rural teachers. One Chinembiri came up with the idea of forming a rural teachers’ union. The union would attend to the peculiar challenges faced by rural teachers. This sounded like a great idea, given the hardships we were enduring with mainstream unions seemingly trivialising the plight of rural teachers.

I swore to myself that night that I would work around the clock to make a rural teachers union a reality. I was later to meet influential comrades like my long-time friend Robson Chere, who was very instrumental in making the vision a reality. At some point we realised that there was a rural teachers union that was deducting money from teachers, lying that they were associated with us. We had to engage the teachers and some of the so-called leaders of the outfit and we eventually amalgamated. That is how we transformed from the Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (RTUZ) to the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe.

Teachers in urban areas led by our current deputy secretary-general, Munyaradzi Masiyiwa, also approached us requesting to be part of the union. A decision was later made in 2016 to open doors to all teachers.

Congress, however, refused to drop the rural in our name because we remain biased towards addressing challenges of rural teachers and uplifting rural education.

ND: You are being mocked for having less than 100 members, what is your membership like?

OM: Artuz is the most loved teacher trade union in Zimbabwe. A lot of barriers of entry have been created by the State when it comes to deducting subscriptions from our many members. We have, however, maintained a database of all teachers who have asked to join us and we now have almost 40 000 teachers who support the Artuz ideology.

Despite all the barriers to entry created by the State, we have since surpassed 7 000 full members, that is those who are able to contribute monthly subscriptions to us using different methods.

The State has criminalised our existence, expelling our members from service and attaching some stigma on our members. We are, however, excited that teachers have refused to be intimidated and continue to join in droves the fastest growing union south of the Sahara.

ND: Artuz leaders, including you and Chere, have spent most of their time in cells, jail and courts, How has this affected the growth of the union?

OM: Prison life has helped shape the Artuz culture. The union is now resilient as the leaders have managed to infuse the resilience gained from prison into the union value system. Unbreakable bonds have been developed between different comrades who have spent time in prison together and further spent days attending court sessions.

It is, however, unfortunate that at times leaders have failed to attend to some of their duties when they are either in prison or appearing before the courts. I have missed a couple of international engagements myself because of travel restrictions imposed on bail conditions. Such important engagements could have helped network the union and boost our capacity to advocate at an international level. The union has also spent significant resources on litigation. We are, however, grateful to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Veritas and Human Rights NGO Forum for also assisting on litigation.

ND: You were once a Chemistry and Science teacher at Chemhanza High School in Wedza before you were reportedly ejected, are you still a practising teacher?

OM: I was never rejected at Chemhanza, I have a very cordial relationship with my former learners, my workmates and the responsible authority. We are always passionate about the work we commit ourselves to. We used to deliver quality education and I have awards to my name because of the sterling work we did at Chemhanza. Unfortunately, on January 19, 2019, I was abducted, tortured and thrown in remand prison, accused of subverting a constitutionally elected government. This was after citizens protested against the hiking of fuel prices. I was accused of being one of the people behind that. While I was in prison my salary was ceased for absenteeism. On being released from prison I taught for a full year without a salary. Instructions were issued to block my salary. To date I am still to receive my dues. I now report for duty intermittently because I am now incapacitated. At some point I will seek justice. I remain a civil servant employed by the Government of Zimbabwe.

ND: Are you achieving your goals, now that you have turned 10?

OM: Artuz prides itself for influencing policy, both through engaging secondary targets and at times directly engaging the duty bearer, (primary target).The amendments to the Education Act in 2020 captured some of our hopes and aspirations after we presented to Parliament input by our members during consultations. Today we are following up on the implementation of some of the new provisions of the Education Act, including the provision of sanitary pads to all girls. During the curriculum review we managed to mobilise parents to reject the Continuous Assessment Learning Activities and there is a positive that was realised.

We are seized with organising communities to demand State-funded education, we are glad that most communities are refusing to pay school fees. Teachers can attest that we pushed for countless salary increments through our consistent advocacy. We have pressured the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to facilitate the voting of all civil servants engaged as polling officials. We won through litigation and we will continue pushing.

We are currently pushing for the dismantling of the National Joint Negotiating Council and establishment of a genuine collective bargaining platform. We will win as usual.

We are also seized with pushing for absolute paid maternity leave for female teachers, victory is also certain.

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