A group of 31 lecturers are bringing a case before Zimbabwe’s new Constitutional Court, alleging that the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology violated their rights by deciding to suspend, fine or transfer them in retaliation for their participation in a strike.
The College Lecturers Association of Zimbabwe (COLAZ) initiated the six-day, countrywide strike in 2011, in an effort to force the Government to review lecturers’ salaries and working conditions. Following the strike, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology, Dr. Washington Mbizvo, personally conducted hearings for more than 300 lecturers who participated in the strike, resulting in a variety of disciplinary actions against the lecturers, including warnings, fines, and transfers. Representatives of COLAZ argued that the decision by the Ministry to transfer COLAZ national and branch executive members who participated in the strike appears to be a calculated attempt to damage the trade union and intimidate its leadership.
The lecturers previously challenged the Ministry’s actions in both Zimbabwe’s Labour Court. In July 2013, the Labour court ordered that the Ministry declare the transfers of at least 18 of the lecturers void and meet all relocation expenses. The Ministry, however, refused to comply with the order. Thus, in late 2013, COLAZ brought the current action in Zimbabwe’s recently-created constitutional court. As of this reporting, the action was pending.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the apparent wrongful dismissal or other professional retaliation against scholars for exercising their freedom of association and peaceful expression. Members of higher education communities have the right to engage in peaceful expression and association without fear of retaliation. An attempt to retaliate for, or otherwise limit, the peaceful exercise of these rights undermines university values and democratic society generally.