Mugabe awards big pay hike to Zimbabwe civil servants

(dpa) - President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has awarded large pay hikes to civil servants, including teachers, ahead of March 29 polls, local news reports said Wednesday.

Addressing a rally Tuesday at a school in Inyathi, in the country's Matabeleland North province, Mugabe said he had signed the new salary schedule earlier in the week.

"Just yesterday (Monday), I was signing a new salary schedule of big salaries for teachers and civil servants. I hope they will be happy because we have worked out very good salaries," the state-controled Herald newspaper quoted Mugabe as saying.

The paper did not say how much the new salaries would be. Teachers at government schools throughout the country have been on strike for the past two weeks, pushing for monthly salaries of at least 1.7 billion Zimbabwe dollars (55 dollars), up from the current 300 million or so.

Many schools have been deserted, with children in school uniform roaming the streets. Worried parents have in some cases tried to find private tutors to make up for the lack of lessons.

"You have to sacrifice for your kids," one young mother of two from the east of the country told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. "Even if it's 20 million dollars per lesson, it's worth it for your child."

Teachers are among many formerly middle-class workers now struggling to make ends meet amid Zimbabwe's ballooning inflation rate, currently running at more than 100,000 per cent.

Mugabe, himself a former teacher, chastised members of the profession for going on strike, saying it was "undignified."

Opponents will view the pay hike as another attempt at vote-buying by the ruling party ahead of Zimbabwe's make-or-break general elections on March 29.

In the polls, Mugabe is facing an unprecedented challenge from two strong opponents: former finance minister Simba Makoni, and veteran opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The announcement of the new salaries comes after Mugabe handed out agricultural equipment at the weekend to beneficiaries of his government's controversial land reform programme.

Also at the weekend Mugabe signed the controversial Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Bill, which will force foreign and white-owned firms to hand over majority shares to black investors.

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