SIX HUNDRED members of Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) marched to the High Court in Bulawayo today in protest against the utterances of the Minister of Education, Senator David Coltart, made in Parliament last week. The Minister said that he would not stop teachers from receiving the illegal incentive payments demanded from parents. Minister Coltart had been invited to receive a petition that the peaceful demonstrators were delivering but could not attend due to a prior commitment. A clerk at the court received the petition instead.
WOZA vigorously oppose the practice of teachers refusing to teach children until their parents provide them with cash incentives. These ‘top-ups’, over and above the usual school fees and school levies which most parents are unable to afford anyway, are just another nail in the coffin of the education system in Zimbabwe. In a recent report on education released in January 2010, entitled ‘Looking Back to Look Forward – a WOZA perspective on education in Zimbabwe’, WOZA demanded that the Ministry of Education stop this practice immediately. It is therefore incredibly disheartening for the Minister to publicly state that they have no intention of doing so.
Four simultaneous protests began and converged upon the High Court. Police officers and clerks at the court merely watched the peaceful protest, listening to the song sung by the demonstrators – “women are crying for an education for their children. Their tears are sorrowful.” WOZA chose International Women’s Day for the protest as the education of their children is an issue close to the heart of every mother.
WOZA National Coordinator, Jenni Williams addressed members outside the Court, explaining that Minister Coltart’s utterances in parliament were unfortunate as they promoted illegal incentives and corruption. Magodonga Mahlangu lead the singing and sloganeering that finally dispersed the peaceful group.
After the protest dispersed, two plain-clothed police officers cornered Williams and Mahlangu outside the Post Office. As they called for back up the activists calmly walked away.
WOZA leaders were recently summoned by the co-ministers of Home Affairs and instructed to notify police of any processions despite the fact that WOZA does not need to notify police under the current exceptions as it is not a political organisation. Before being dismissed, Minister Giles Mutsekwa of the MDC delivered a subtle threat that they could be ambushed on their return to Bulawayo that day. It is unclear as to if it was intended as an active threat but in the current security situation, activists remain vigilant about continued reports of threats on civic society leaders.