Zimbabwe’s Central Statistical Office has pegged the current Poverty Datum Line at ZW$12 million a month for a family of five, as compared with ZW$11 million last month and ZW$8.2 million the month before.
Like most Zimbabweans, teachers have spent the better part of this year trying to have their wages keep up with inflation. Earlier this year, Raymond Majongwe, the Secretary General of the Progressive Teacher’s Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) was detained by the police for stating the simple truth that, at the time, a teacher’s salary was only enough to afford four and half bananas a day.
Last week, the teachers rejected the government’s offer of a 91% salary increase. The increase would have added ZW$2.6 million to the present basic wage of ZW$2.9 million, making a total of Z$5.5 million dollars. But PTUZ described the offer as “pathetic,” and is standing firm on its demand for a monthly minimum wage of ZW$15 million.
To achieve its demands, the union had been on a “sit down,” in which teachers were reporting to school each day, but sitting at their desks and not teaching. This week, the PTUZ changed tack. It is now urging its membership to stay away from work altogether. “Stay put or stay poor,” it advises, and is hoping that fellow teachers’ unions, the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association and the Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, will join the action. As inflation spirals, the teachers’ demands have increased – they are now demanding a basic salary of ZW$18 million plus another ZW$14 million in housing and transport costs.
This would put teachers just barely above the Poverty Datum Line – for now, until it goes up again. It would certainly leave them far better off than those in the agricultural sector.
Recent increases in the agricultural sector wage mean that the highest paid agricultural worker’s wage is gazetted at ZW$2 million – up from Z$440,000. This still is not enough to buy yourself a loaf of bread (or a beer) a day – not that you could find either one, anyway.
The Week has picked up on a particularly mind-boggling take on all of this. In July, an official from Zimbabwe’s Finance Ministry was reported in the Cape Times to have dismissed Zimbabwe’s deepening food crisis, saying:
The unpatriotic hoarding of food gives the impression that we have a problem, which clearly we haven’t, except in the South African media’s mind. We do not call it starving, we call it fasting. Fasting is actually good for you. Lots of famous people have fasted for the benefit of their people. Gandhi, for instance. In our case, the people themselves will be encouraged to fast, thereby strengthening themselves against the onslaught of colonial imperialism. We have no objection in principle to people eating. Those of us in government all eat, but only because persons in our important positions have to. What we must guard against is the belief that people have the right to break the law if they are hungry.
All this, as a friend pointed out yesterday, in Independent Zimbabwe.