Some 10 000 teachers and ancillary staff working for private colleges throughout the country have gone for months without salaries as Covid-19 lockdown continues, the president of the Association of Independent Colleges in Zimbabwe (AICZ), Prof Washington Mahiya (pictured) said.
Mahiya said this in an interview with The Mirror when he appealed to Government to allow for the reopening of private colleges. He argued that Government has little reason to keep private colleges closed because most have the capacity to comply with the lockdown requirements including maintaining social distance and giving pupils masks and sanitisers.
He said private colleges were solely dependent on fees paid by parents for their income and many will shutdown for good if Government refused to grant their appeal.
He said the situation is dire with debts mounting in unpaid rentals, staff salaries and other day-today costs. Mahiya said a majority of the colleges were being threatened with eviction by landlords.
One college director who declined to be named said there is no basis for refusing private colleges permission to reopen because their classes are much smaller with less than 20 pupils and space is available to ensure that the required social distance is maintained.
He said that all institutions that have been seen to have the capacity to meet standards for Covid lockdown have been granted permission by Government to reopen and it was therefore unfair for private colleges to be refused the same simply because public schools have no capacity to meet such. “Private hospitals are open while public hospitals are closed; this is because they can meet the requirements while the latter cannot. The same must apply to private and public schools. Private schools can meet the requirements and they should therefore not be refused permission to reopen because public schools cannot,” said the director.
The government, which rejected the pleas of the private schools off-hand, has, however, since started a phased re-opening of all schools, starting with exam classes. Education minister Cain Mathema made it clear that no fees for the missed Second Term should be paid to all schools both public and private.
“The situation is terrible for independent colleges at the moment. We survive on income from parents for salaries and rentals. We have over 100 000 students and over 10 000 teachers and ancillary staff and we only managed to pay rentals for three months after declaration of the national lockdown in March.
“Our teachers and workers are suffering because they have no source of income… they can’t pay rent, they can’t buy food for their children, they have been reduced to paupers. The situation is heart rending,” Mahiya said. He added that chances are that many colleges will not reopen after the lockdown because they would be broke.
AICZ chairperson for Harare, Taurayi Mataka said some of their members borrowed money from banks to finance or expand their projects and those loans are accruing huge interests. He said independent colleges in other countries are being allowed to open because of their capacity to provide PPEs since most of them have a reasonable number of students as compared to public schools.
He said the situation is terrible for college workers as they are failing to pay rents to their landlords. President Mnangagwa announced a fund to support business threatened with Covid lockdown but none have received those funds so far.
AICZ Masvingo secretary general Sarah Mnemo said continued closure would have tragic effects on the future of children. She said children are now committing vices like drug abuse and there are many early pregnancies because they have nothing to do.