Woza Moya January 2007

“We were promised silver and gold – but paid in words without meaning” (comment from a social justice consultation in Matshobana, Bulawayo)

In 1980 one of the first promises of the newly independent government of Zimbabwe was education for all – an important reason many had joined the liberation struggle for.

Education in Zimbabwe in 2007 – a broken promise
In 1980, free primary education was introduced and many Zimbabweans benefited. New schools were built and Zimbabwe had the highest literacy rate in Africa. This was what people had sacrificed for and it was what the people had been promised. But in 1992, the government chose to betray children and their parents. It chose to sacrifice education and health to keep its cronies happy – the army and the civil service. In 2006, the betrayal went even deeper. Fees increases of over 1000% put education beyond the reach of many and even more increases this term has meant that, in 2007, education has become the right of only the rich.

27 years after Independence, Zimbabweans have been forced to face the harsh reality that the leaders that we elected to represent us have seperated themselves from the will of the people and are copying the worst behaviour of past colonial masters. Not only have they failed to deliver the promises of Independence, they have become too high and mighty for people who elected them. The much talked about Government promise from the 1980s of ‘Education for all by 2000’ has become just another of the government’s adverts full of empty words without meaning.

27 years later – the children of Zimbabwe have a different experience
Peter Makoni (13), like any other teenager, has a dream – he wants to be a medical doctor. Sadly he has to live with the reality that he might have to settle for much less; his dream along with his future has already been stolen. “I know that this dream might not come true because my parents cannot afford to send me to a school where there are well-equipped laboratories and libraries and where I can learn the science subjects I need to make my dream come true. So instead I have to go to Emakhandeni Secondary School where they don’t teach science and my parents still have to pay more than $67,000 a term plus stationery. Even this they cannot afford.”

Peter shares one textbook with five other pupils but he says that this is ‘normal’ because he has never known better since he went through the same situation even in primary school. “I am one of the lucky ones because at least I have managed to stay in school, most of my classmates’ parents have failed to pay the ever increasing fees and most of my classmates have had to drop out. I am also worried that I may not be able to finish my studies,” he says.

According to the United Nations, as recently as 2000, 90% of young Zimbabweans went to primary school – the highest attendance in Africa. By 2003 that figure has fallen to only 65%. (The Zimbabwe Standard)

The children know the reality behind those statistics however. At 17, Edina Chando, who stays with her aunt in Matshobana, is not too sure if she will be able to sit for her Ordinary Level examinations. “My parents have passed away. I stay with my aunt while my elder brother who lives in South Africa contributes towards my schooling. But I am not sure if I will be able to finish my education because the fees just keep going up.” She remembers when they used to get exercise books in primary school and wishes things had stayed the same. But secondary school has not been very kind to them. With 12 classes per each form and only four available rooms, most of the time they have to learn huddled under a tree. “How am I supposed to concentrate when I have to sit under a tree half the time? Its very uncomfortable.”

“Most of our teachers work on a temporary basis, maybe for only one term at a time, and are not qualified to teach. Even the qualified ones are not paid well so they do not seem to really care about us or whether we understand our studies. I do not like this and wish our teachers would care for us. We have been paying for computer lessons for a long time but we have not had a single lesson. The computers are all locked up in a storeroom and you begin to wonder what we are paying for?” said Edina. She too, like Peter, dreams of being a medical doctor some day.

Edina says she has learnt so much about the pre-independence era, which she has no problem believing because she goes through most of the same problems in an ‘independent’ Zimbabwe.

Today children learn about the injustices that caused their parents to take up arms and feel they ought to do something similar to ease some of their problems. As Christine Choruma (13) put it, “Things are not working for us in schools and I just wish we as school children would organise ourselves and carry out peaceful protests until the leaders try to correct the scales that have been tipped in favour of the rich,” she said.

What people have been telling WOZA about their experiences of education:
· In Gweru, parents are summonsed to appear in court when they fail to pay their children’s school fees on time and are now living in constant fear of being hauled before the courts for failure to pay their children’s schools fees.
· In rural Insiza, if fees are not paid on time, the schools tell the chief who forces the parents to appear before him and to pay a fine per child for the appearance, on top of the outstanding fees.
· Parents pay book levy but are then forced to buy books or children have to share textbooks – where is this money going?
· Children are chased from school for non-payment, for improper uniforms, for not having textbooks. Parents pay for the whole term but the child will only have been in class for a few weeks – how will they be able to pass their exams when they are at school for such a little time?
· So many shortages – teachers, classrooms, desks, chairs, equipment, books
· Who is BEAM (Basic Education Assistance Module) helping?
· Children are forced to fundraise through sponsorship or civvies days – but where is this money going?
· What happened to the promised free education for adults who had missed the opportunity to be educated during the war?
· With fees rising every term, how can we afford to send our children to school? They have to drop out and we are afraid they will become thieves and prostitutes.

WOZA has listened to what people have had to say and their demands have been incorporated into the People’s Charter. The people have spoken and these are their demands:

The People’s Charter – Educating the Nation:
Every child shall have equal access to an education without any form of discrimination. Those who cannot afford it shall have access to financial assistance;

Primary education shall be free and secondary education affordable as we were promised in 1980;

All students shall have a good quality education, taught in classrooms with enough resources – books, desks and equipment.

There shall be enough qualified teachers committed to educating the next generation. We must respect their contribution enough to give them a living wage.

WOZA believes that education is essential for any nation to succeed. We believe in the right of children to an education and we believe that, together, Zimbabweans can succeed in defending their children’s rights.

Let all those who LOVE Zimbabwe join hands to turn our dream of social justice into a reality.
JOIN US in demanding our children’s RIGHT to education!