High school teacher Blessing Machingura, 37, has to rely on loans from friends and family to survive. Machingura is just one of a number of teachers in the Western Cape who have gone without their salaries for months because of issues related to Zimbabwean exemption permits (ZEP).
“It’s a huge problem. I have to borrow here and borrow there until I have nowhere to borrow anymore,” said the mother of two. “We’re struggling to pay the children’s school fees and food, all the stuff you need. You use money, and if you don’t have it, you can’t have the stuff you need. It’s a financial constraint.”
Despite not being paid since February, Machingura has religiously gone to work out of a sense of duty to her pupils and because of her dedication to education. She has worked in South Africa for 13 years teaching geography to Grade 10, 11 and 12 classes, as well as history and English to Grade 8s.
“It’s hope and passion that keeps me going to work. I can say that. You love to work, you love your job, and you hope that one day it will become fruitful,” she said. “Although I need money, my work is more important, so we don’t just leave the children. I have a matric class, and they are about to write. I can’t just leave them because I need money. What about the kids?”
Admire Magwenzi, 31, is another teacher loyal to his pupils. He was last paid in August. Magwenzi’s problem is not the ZEP but his refugee status. He is still waiting for Home Affairs to verify his permit as he continues to work. “It is hard for me … I have to borrow money for rent and for transport for me to move from point A to point B. I have to borrow money for me to come to school. It’s really tough,” he said.
Surviving through debt
Magwenzi has been teaching Grade 6 maths at his school since 2012 and has been in South Africa for over a decade. This is the first time he has had difficulties. “It is really unfair on the children. If you are a qualified teacher, I think it would be a disservice to the learners because my heart is with them,” he said. “This coming week, if I don’t get paid, I don’t know how I am going to come to work. At the end of the day, the people who are going to suffer are the learners.”
Elton, who teaches geography at a school in the Western Cape, tutors pupils after school to earn enough money each month. He asked not to use his last name for fear of further delays in his permit application process. “It’s very difficult,” he said. “We have to live on borrowing.”
Jacob Funyura, 41, is a grade 7 teacher who teaches English, Mathematics, natural sciences and technology. He has yet to be paid since January while waiting for his permit to be finalised and verified. Funyura said he travels 32km to work every day and if he doesn’t receive his salary soon he doesn’t know how he will be able to get to work anymore.
The chairperson of the Union of Zimbabwean Educators in the Western Cape, Jack Mutsvairo, said they were unsure why the Department of Home Affairs was taking so long to process and verify permits. “There are some problems. It could be incompetence. It could be bureaucracy. It could be indifference. We don’t know what the problem is.
“These people are not in South Africa because they want to be. The situation in Zimbabwe is known to everyone. There are no jobs and the economy is not operating at the level it should. Zimbabwean teachers add value to South African education,” he said.
Jessica Shelver, spokesperson for the Western Cape MEC of education, said the department sympathised with teachers but had to abide by the law. “The greatest challenge is that Home Affairs takes their time to verify these work permits,” she said. “We follow up on numerous occasions but unfortunately Home Affairs is a national department. It really is out of our hands.”
According to Shelver, the verification process was implemented to avoid fraudulent work permits. Last month, the department received notification of two counterfeits, which was “extremely concerning”.
Teachers will get back pay once their permits have been issued and verified. Home Affairs spokesperson Thabo Mokgola has yet to respond to questions sent to him on 15 October.