Harare, Zimbabwe: A strike by Zimbabwean teachers that has crippled learning entered a second week on Monday, with no resolution on sight after the government suspended 135,000 teachers for failing to report for work.

Many teachers did not report for work when schools opened for the first term of the new year last week, saying they could no longer afford the commute from their home to the classroom.

An AFP correspondent who toured schools in the capital Harare found students milling around the grounds or playing in classrooms.

Some schools were completely abandoned with neither teachers or pupils present.

Teachers in Zimbabwe earn on average US$100 per month.

On Thursday, the education ministry said it was suspending teachers for three months for failing to report for duty.

Unions counted the numbers of suspended teachers at 135,000 out of the roughly 140,000 employed in public schools.

“The government has closed schools by suspending more than 90 percent of teachers,” Takavafira Zhou, president of Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe told AFP.

The pay dispute between teachers and government dates back three years when government switched from paying workers in US dollars to Zimbabwean dollars, the value of which has been weakened by inflation.

“The lowest paid teacher is earning around US$80 and we are saying we want a restoration of the salary we were earning under (former president Robert) Mugabe which was US$540,” Zhou said.

Zhou accused the government of “ill-treating” teachers.

“No teacher grows money in a garden or receives it like manna from heaven,” he said, accusing the government of using “thuggery methods” to try force teachers to return to work and vowing unions would fight the suspensions in court.

During the rule of the autocratic Mugabe, himself a trained teacher, Zimbabwe prided itself on having among the highest standards of educations in Africa.

Zimbabwean students have already lost several months of learning time to Covid-19 lockdowns.

The economy of the southern African country has been on a downward spiral for more than a decade.

Strikes by teachers, nurses and doctors are common as many battle to make ends meet and demand higher pay.

President Emmerson Mnangangwa, who took over from Mugabe after Zimbabwe’s longtime leader was toppled in a coup, pledged to revive the economy.

But analysts say he has so far failed to do better than Mugabe.

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