By Tafadzwa Muranganwa| Born in a family of 6, Sheila Chisirimhuru is proud that her father who was a teacher managed to raise them well funding their education at boarding schools.
It is this upbringing that actually motivated the mother of 2 to pursue teaching as a profession.
“Sheila Chisirimunhu a.k.a Cde Shidza is a proud mother of two beautiful girls Patience and Tariro.
“I was born in a family of six, three girls and three boys and bred in a Christian environment of Morgenster Mission where my father was teaching. Teaching became my passion due to the way we were raised up, though my mother was a mere housewife my father managed to send all of us to boarding schools,” she reminisces.
That her father could survive merely on his salary and still be a source of envy in his community is something that keeps Sheila fighting for a living wage for the thousands of teachers in Zimbabwe who are wallowing in poverty because of the meagre salaries. To augment these low salaries most of the teachers have turned into vending and other sorts of menial jobs losing their dignity as professionals.
Faced with such predicaments, the 54-year-old Chisirimhuru had no choice but to join trade unionism in the late 90s which saw her being elected as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union Secretary for Masvingo District where she was instrumental in staging protests.
“I trained as a teacher at Morgenster Teachers’ College in 1992 and when I joined the profession it was rosy but everything took a nose-dive in the late 90s and this made me join trade unionism assuming the role of ZCTU Masvingo District secretary.
“On September 13 ,2006 we managed a big protest that the state responded with heavy-handedness brutalising some of our members who were left nursing injuries and a few later succumbed to the injuries,”Cde Shidza goes down the memory lane.
Apart from being a target of state brutality and persecution, Sheila said her fight for better teachers’ working conditions and salaries cost her a husband.
“Some of the challenges that I have faced being a female trade unionist is that actually, people don’t seem to understand you, personally the father of my kids walked out of our marriage and leaving me to single-handedly raise the kids.
“There are many times I feel I am putting my children at risk because of my radicalism,” said Chisirimhuru who is now the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) Masvingo Provincial Secretary for Gender.
On the 18th of December last year, Chisirimhuru vividly recalls how her world crumbled after being slapped with a 16-month jail sentence for having organized a protest demanding better salaries for teachers.
She endured 18 days of torment in the prison where she says the conditions are extremely terrible and not fit for ‘human habitation’.
“It was around 945am on the 18th of December when I was slapped with a 16-month jail term .At first, I failed to comprehend it for I knew I had done nothing wrong
“For the first time I had to spend both Christmas and New Year holiday in prison living in untold squalid conditions and I can attest Zim prisons are not fit for human habitation,” recalls Chisirimhuru.
In January 2021, Chisirimhuru was granted bail pending appeal and conviction.
Judges sitting at the Masvingo High Court, justices Sunsley Zisengwe and Garainesu Mawadze on 15 September quashed the conviction and 16-months imprisonment of Chisirimunhu and it was a huge sigh of relief for the trade unionist.
“When the conviction was set aside I could not believe it, I cried with joy because the conviction was weighing heavily on my neck.
“I felt I had been victimized but I urge all my female compatriots to stand up when they feel their rights are being trampled upon,” asserts Chisirimhuru.
Asked if the experience did not break her spirit, the trade unionist says she won’t relent.
“No not all. Of course, they managed to bend me but failed to break me,” she signs off.