The Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (ZIMTA) will hold an elective extra-ordinary conference on December 10-13 in Harare, where a new national executive will be chosen by the delegates. Ahead of the crucial indaba, The Standard caught up with the ZIMTA chief executive officer (CEO) Sifiso Ndlovu to discuss several issues including teachers’ salaries, the elective conference, digitalisation programme, and the outlook for 2024.
Below are the interview excerpts:
Q: The year 2023 is coming to an end soon, what has the year been like for ZIMTA, any successes, or challenges?
A: Let’s start with trade union expectations, 2023 did not give us very exciting news because the salaries for educators were quite subdued for a long time. We had to struggle to get an improvement of salaries through hard negotiations. But clearly, we did not get the best out of it.
We would have loved for the salaries of the educators to be paid in United States dollars but the government paid in Zimbabwean Dollars, which was fast losing its value due to inflation. We received some kind of amelioration of the situation from the government through an improved remuneration in allowances in United States Dollars but that was not the best because we were looking at getting an average of US$800 per month for teachers.
Q: Why do you believe teachers deserve US$800 per month?
A: We believe that educators must be in the middle class of our economy and currently they are down in the working class. That creates a problem because our professionals are getting way less those who are not even educated. So, that is not good.
But we applaud most of teachers for their dedication to service and making sure children get a good education. And indeed, the Grade Seven results had an improvement, which is an indication that Zimbabwe has good teachers. Let’s maintain the good teachers and pay them well so that they are committed.
Q: Tell us more about the trade union activities in 2023.
A: We had subdued activities during the year because we received our resources in Zimbabwe Dollars; that created a problem because as we all know, the ZimDollar lost purchasing power. So, the union had to deprioritise certain activities, which is not good for the association. However, we remain strong in terms of investments, we are proud that we have ZW$80 billion, which is a growth. I want to thank committed teachers for supporting the association which has marked 82 years of existence. We are carrying on with the legacy which was left by our forefathers since 1940.
Q: So, can we safely say ZIMTA is a robust organisation?
A: In terms of a going concern, we are solid and that to me is something that we have to applaud the stewards of the association for doing a good job. We are the only union so far which has given itself to the test of an audit using international standards. We are audited by professional firms and each year we get comments which make us better in the way we deliver our activities. That has been done by external examination and we are proud of that.
Q: But some ZIMTA members recently held a press conference where they alleged that some financial records hadn’t been audited. What’s your comment?
A: They were misrepresenting facts. ZIMTA has never skipped an audit since 1980 and we will continuously do so. We will be presenting the reports for all the years including those years we didn’t manage to do so due to the COVID-19 pandemic regulations. We will present the 2020-2022 reports to the extraordinary conference next week. So, as far as that is concerned, it’s a statement of fallacy and mischief that we didn’t audit our books. We are a professional organisation and we adhere to professional standards.
Q: What then is the issue with these few members who made these spurious allegations?
A: The issue here is that we moved the Bereavement and Retirement Fund run by provinces using very different scales, which created discrepancies in service delivery. Our auditors advised us that we couldn’t operate a provident fund without registration. We had to register as a provider of that service. In compliance with the law and to avoid risks, we had to form ZIMTA Provident Fund (ZPF) and it’s doing well. It has strong assets, which will back up members in hard times. We stopped the provident fund being run in the provinces, and some people were not happy because they were dipping their hands into the till.
Q: Next week ZIMTA will hold an extraordinary conference, what will be the major highlight of this meeting?
A: As the word says “extraordinary conference”, it means it’s a special meeting where we will be electing new members of the National Executive. We could not hold the annual conferences due to COVID-19 but we started, in 2022, the process of electing low-level leaders from branch, district, and provincial executives and now it culminates in a national executive team, which will run the affairs of the association for the next four years. That’s the most key issue the conference will do.
The second issue is to receive reports, which will be activity reports and financial statements for all the years. Now, we are preparing to audit 2023, and it will be presented at a conference next year.
Delegates are also looking forward to engaging with government ministers including the Primary and Secondary Education Minister Torerayi Moyo. The Public Service, Labour, and Social Welfare Minister July Moyo said he was engaged elsewhere and won’t be available for our conference.
Q: What’s the outlook for 2024?
A: I have already set up a strategy for the next five years; it’s one of the aspects for discussion and noting at next week’s conference. We want to have a strategic plan which will unlock the business side of the union. ZIMTA has 718 hectares close to Bulawayo for income-generating projects so we don’t rely on subscriptions. We will be doing business as outlined in the strategy plan.
ZPF will run independently and we will also do solar power generation projects. There are several talks with investors who want to develop solar systems at the farm. We have set aside 300 hectares for that purpose for solar power generation. Teachers will benefit by getting dividends out of the projects; they will be paid for investing in the farm.
We are also going digital in our operations as we aim to improve communication with our members. It’s a journey but we are launching the digitalisation programme on December 12, during the conference. Even during the conference, the reports will be online; members can download and get soft copies on the website. No more papers but digital! – The Standard