Teachers in terror over attacks

Karen MacGregor In Harare

MORE THAN 2,000 teachers were assaulted and at least one was murdered in Zimbabwe during the run-up to the nation's elections last weekend.

Government militia targeted teachers as part of their months-long campaign of terror against all opposition supporters. The elections resulted in victory for Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, which has stayed in power since he was elected president in 1980.

Teachers were attacked in the belief that they were promoting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in classrooms and communities. Many joined the estimated 6,500 families who had fled their homes to avoid attack, hiding in the bush, making a run for the border of a neighbouring and less violent nation, moving to towns or in with family or friends.

The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe said more than 9,000 teachers and 551 schools had been affected by the Mugabe-led wave of political violence, and 2,096 teachers had been assaulted. It also received reports of 12 teachers or their wives being raped, and of 25 pupils being abducted or raped by Zanu-PF thugs. The Zimbabwe Independent was told that government supporters were extorting money from teachers at schools in the Mberengwa district in exchange for their security.

The unionrecommended that all schools close during the week before 5.1 million Zimbabweans went to the polls.

Teachers were targeted, a spokesperson for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace said, "because they are educated, read the newspapers and are community leaders. Zanu-PF cadres were going into communities and trying to intimidate anyone who might be against the government. Silencing the educated is an age-old and very effective tool of oppression."

The teachers' union reported the worst areas to be Mashonaland West and East, with high levels of political violence. "The teaching and the learning environment has been seriously affected. The morale of these teachers is at its lowest ebb," it said.

Violence against Zimbabwean teachers started in February, when they were accused of advocating the "no" vote to constitutional reforms proposed by Mugabe. This, for Mugabe and his men, raised the unsettling prospect of a serious challenge to their power, and even a loss of control if a fair election was held. Polls at the time showed many Zimbabweans were ready to throw Mugabe out after corruption and national economic ruin.

'More than 9,000 teachers and 551 schools were affected by the waves of Mugabe-led political violence'

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Karen MacGregor In Harare

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