ZIMBABWE: Pay hike ends lecturer strike

Lecturers in Zimbabwe have been awarded salary hikes, prompting them to return to work more than a month after engaging in a wider civil servant strike that is still raging. Top-paid academics will now earn US$800 a month - up from $290. Only lecturers have been awarded a pay rise so far, out of a striking civil servant pool that includes health workers and teachers, who continue to take home less than $200 a month.

In prioritising lecturers, the government appears to have been jolted into action by grim figures on the brain drain from Zimbabwe's higher education institutions, published recently by the parliamentary committee on education.

The committee painted a bleak picture of departments at the University of Zimbabwe that were hopelessly short of academics. As University World News reported, the university required 1,200 academics but had fewer than 500, with science departments the worst hit.

Effective from January this year, the lowest and highest paid academics will be paid $200 and $800 respectively. They will also receive a 30% reduction in tuition fees and a retention allowance, according to the state-owned paper The Herald.

Although lecturer pay remains considerably below the average $2,000 offered in the region, this is the first time in close to five years that Zimbabwe academics will receive salaries that enable them to pay the rent and buy basic foods.

In previous years, lecturers' earnings were wiped out by world-record inflation that reached 231 million percent at the height of a decade-long economic crisis brought about by poor management and increasing political oppression under President Robert Mugabe.

Inflation was finally solved by the government of national unity forged in February 2009 between Mugabe and former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, now Prime Minister. The government dumped the Zimbabwean dollar as legal tender and adopted the South African Rand and the US dollar as the medium of exchange.

The still cash-strapped government is now under pressure to meet the demands of other state employees, who want $630 a month including housing and accommodation allowances.

In a development related to the brain drain, legislators have produced another report detailing problems in the research sector. The report said the draft Science and Technology Innovation Bill of 2007 had been shelved because of funding problems.

The report noted the Biotechnology Authority did not have laboratory equipment for testing biological material, especially GMOs. As a result, some biological resources were being "poached" by other countries. Further, the Research Council of Zimbabwe was failing to perform because of lack of resources.

"There is need for a certain proportion of export tax to go towards research and development. The parliamentary committee learnt that there is need for the creation of a conducive environment for the retention of scientists. Scientists require laboratories, research resources and salaries for their work to be done successfully," the report said.

Meanwhile, the non-profit Solidarity Student Trust reported that in the year to February, flouting of student rights had led to the expulsion of 43 students from higher education institutions, 128 students had been unlawfully arrested and 124 had been unlawfully detained. The organisation recorded a total of 313 rights violations involving students.

Mugabe's failure to observe human rights has seen the European Union and United States renew targeted sanctions against him and his inner circle for another year.