ZIMBABWE: 53-year-old Sheilla Chisirimhuru has been brutalized for joining in a nationwide protest for the restoration of teachers salaries in Zimbabwe.
Chisirimhuru is a teacher and a trade unionist. She is currently working as a Gender Secretary for Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union Zimbabwe (ARTUZ).
The constitution of Zimbabwe, the constitution enshrines various sections that promotes conducive environment for different occupations.
But in various cases, these constitutional sections have been unfair to anti-state activists, associations, and parties when they try to exercise them against government policies.
Section 65 of the constitution states that “Every person has a right to fair and safe labour practices and standards to be paid a fair and reasonable wage.”
A review of this shows that this section has been unjust to Chisirimhuru who has been charged and brutalized for protesting.
Charged for protesting
After ARTUZ launched a nationwide protest for the restoration of teachers’ salaries, Chisirimhuru was arrested along with the union President for leading the demonstration which was held at Masvingo District Education offices.
They had been charged with inciting public violence and alternatively breaching COVID-19 regulations. In her statement, Chisirimhuru claimed that the allegations were not correct as they had sanitized and observed social distance.
The court acquitted ARTUZ President but convicted Chisirimhuru and sentenced her to 16 months in prison.
Treatment that contradicts with the constitution
“I was subjected to inhumane treatment as if I was a murderer,” Chisirimhuru said.
“There were times when I was not allowed to access my medications though I have several underlying conditions ranging from hypertension, asthma, and diabetes,” she told Transcontinental Times.
In line with her condition, Section 50 of the Constitution enshrines the rights of arrested and detained persons whereby subsection (1)(c) stipulates that arrested people must be treated humanely and with respect for their inherent dignity.
According to Chisirimhuru, the treatment was in contrary with the constitution, “My health drastically deteriorated such that I lost almost 13 kgs in 16 days and I was even subjected to conditions that i was most likely to be affected with COVID-19.
“I was made to sleep in a tiny cell with three other inmates whereby you could hardly turn or stretch your legs, the diet was poor and when my relatives brought me food from home the authorities could not allow it”, she recalled.
Life as a single mother and breadwinner
For Chisirimhuru, a single mother of 4, the salary for teaching was not sufficient to cover her expenses and that led her and fellow teachers launched a protest.
Teaching has become the most underpaid occupation in the recent years, to the extend that last year teachers were earning less than US$35 per month.
As a breadwinner, the salary was not enough even to cater for one child basic needs for a month.
Her husband left her in 2006 due to her involvement in activism.
“I remember there were times when we had to sleep with weapons under the pillow at the height of political violence or we could seek refuge at friends houses.
“Several times my house was attacked with windows smashed, so my husband could not stand it and left”, she said.
Message to fellow teachers
Chisirimhuru joined the teaching field in early 90s and actively involved in trade unionism in late 90s.
She said she is not ashamed for being an trade unionist and being a teacher for it is her passion
“Being a human rights defender and a voice for the voiceless actually makes me contend. What l can urge my fellow teachers is that none but ourselves can free us lets stand up and fight for restoration of teachers dignity.
“I can only conclude by quoting the late United Nations Secretary General Koffi Anani words ‘For evil to prevail thats when people sit back and do nothing about it’ “, said Chisirimhuru.
She lamented that it is not only in the teaching profession that these unfair practices keeps on happening.
There are several activists who have been charged with similar cases by exercising their constitutional rights.