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woos voters with laptops
for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR)
(Africa Reports: Zimbabwe Elections No 20, 25-Mar-05)
Sithole in Harare
doles out expensive computers as he campaigns around the country,
in clear violation of electoral rules.
Mugabe is campaigning across the length and breadth of Zimbabwe
accompanied by three Air Force helicopters packed with more than
100 million US dollars worth of state-of-the-art Hewlett Packard
the size of the community, the president doles out between ten and
one hundred computers at each stop on the election trail.
the main beneficiaries - many of which have been without electricity,
textbooks and even roofs for many years.
The money to
buy the computers - enough to have imported nearly a million tonnes
of staple maize for a country experiencing widespread crop failure
and hunger - and to fuel the helicopters has come from state coffers
in a clear violation of electoral rules forbidding competing parties
from using government funds to contest elections.
rules in Britain for use of government property during election
periods, a political officer at the British embassy in Harare, told
an IWPR reporter, "In Britain, if the prime minister is accompanied
by the air force during his campaigns, his party must reimburse
are being forced to attend many of Mugabe's "computer rallies".
Pupils at Harare's Tafara High School and Primary School were last
week made to stand for seven hours under baking sun waiting for
the president to arrive with his computer-laden helicopters. Instead
of being organised by their teachers, the Tafara pupils were marshalled
by Mugabe's personal stormtroopers, the notoriously violent National
Youth Militia, known as the "Green Bombers" after the colour of
whose son is a pupil at Tafara Primary, complained bitterly about
the use of children in the election campaign. "Our children went
to school at 8 am and were not allowed to leave the school grounds
by youth militia manning the gates," he said. "They spent the whole
day hungry, but the president came only after 3 pm. For young children
to spend the day under such conditions is unacceptable."
teacher at Mutoko Secondary School, in a remote rural area in the
northeast of the country, said the "computer rallies" were testimony
to how out of touch Mugabe is with the parlous state of affairs
in the state school system.
"If this is
not mere electioneering, then it is a classical case of misplaced
priorities," said Nguna. "At our school a class of 45 children shares
a single textbook, which has to be read to the class by the teacher.
There are no desks, so children either sit on the floor or on home-made
"We have no
electricity and we cannot even dream of science laboratories. So,
you tell me, what use would be a computer to our students?"
18, is a former pupil of Vumbunu Secondary School, in Zimbabwe's
Eastern Highlands. Five years ago, just before Zimbabwe's last parliamentary
elections, the ruling ZANU PF party gave five computers to the school.
"But today I
do not know how to use a computer," said Chigahuyo. "The computers
were there but we could not use them because there is no electricity
at the school.
"I failed my
O-level exams and now I am stuck here in the countryside with no
work. I failed because we did not have the most basic things to
help us with out learning, things like textbooks and ballpoint pens."
an executive member of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe,
the main teaching union whose members have been heavily persecuted
by Mugabe's ruling ZANU PF party, said, "What schools most badly
need are textbooks. Without them, pupils cannot pass exams. They
also need an end to violence by the police and Green Bombers so
that teachers do not run away from rural areas and seek other work
"There is no
student who is going to use computers productively to pass O-levels
when basic resources such as electricity are lacking."
Grace, also got in on the computer act last week. She invited university
and technical college administrators to State House in Harare and
handed them 255 laptops.
country's court system, clogged with a backlog of cases going back
years, is hampered by a complete lack of computers. Clerks process
documents on elderly typewriters whose keys stick and ribbons loosen.
"All these files
on my desk contain documents that need retyping," said Nolahla Sithole,
a clerk in Bulawayo Magistrates' Court, with a sweep of the hand
at the old and dusty files piling up around her desk. "We are supposed
to be five people doing this work, but we are only two and our typewriters
are old and virtually useless. Never mind a computer, just an old
fashioned electric typewriter would make my life a lot easier."
is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.
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