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Mugabe reinvents same old laws to force his will on schools
August 09, 2005

HARARE Zimbabwe government ministers have over the years built a notorious reputation of willfully ignoring the cries of the poor and powerless in society.

Even in the face of strong popular rejection of their policies by the long-suffering Zimbabweans, government ministers have stubbornly rejected popular sentiment, burying their heads in the sand.

Instead, government ministers have come up with amendment after amendment, patching up the statute books and the constitution in their image whenever they realised it did not suit their hazy vision.

Critics say this trend is not new.

Faced with a vibrant university which held several successful demonstrations against his government, President Robert Mugabe came up with the University of Zimbabwe Amendment Act in 1992 which virtually castrated serious student activism at the campus.

In 2000, faced with the biggest challenge to his grip on power, Mugabe drastically rebaptised the colonial and notorious Law and Order Maintenance Act as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) to stifle emerging political opposition in the form of the Movement for Democratic Change.

The security Act bans Zimbabweans from gathering in groups of more than three to discuss politics without police permission.

After failing to deal with a vibrant, questioning press, the government came up with a new law the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) to silence dissent.

Now Mugabe is redirecting his ire at schools which embarrassed his government in the courts last year as they resisted government interference in the running of the institutions.

The Education Amendment Bill set to be tabled in Parliament soon, has given credence to charges that his government wants to extend its iron grip over Zimbabwe's deteriorating education system.

Last year, Education Minister Aeneas Chigwedere sought to control fees charged by private schools in the country. He lost the battle in the courts.

Chigwedere also provoked the ire of parents when he sought to introduce one set of uniform for all schools. There was a public hullabaloo over the move forcing the minister to backtrack.

Now Chigwedere, through the Education Amendment Bill has brought back the same conditions through the back door.

The amendments, critics argue, impinge on the rights of both church-run and private schools to recruit staff of their own choice giving the Minister powers to determine who can be employed by these schools.

The draft law will empower the Minister to determine the school uniforms children should wear and what associations teachers should belong to.

Human rights lawyers have criticised the proposed amendments saying they impinge on some provisions of the Convention of the Rights of Children and the African Charter on the Rights of the Child.

Rangu Nyamurundira of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) says the proposed Bill, if passed into law, will effectively deny children the right to be enrolled at a school of their choice.

"The Bill raises concerns coming as it does after government closed 46 schools in its bid to control school fees in contravention of the provisions of that Charter which it ratified," Nyamurundira said.

The Amendment Bill seeks to punish schools that fail to comply with the government's directives on school fees and levies by arbitrarily placing the school under direct management of the education ministry.

Schools which defy the government directives on fees risk being de-registered while any excess amount collected in fees will be forfeited to the State.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary general Raymond Majongwe says his union is peeved by the proposed amendments.

The trade unionist said the proposed amendments were nothing more than "the ministry's misplaced desire to extend needless control over the running of schools in the country."

"Amendments have become a norm in this country whenever a minister feels enfeebled by current legislation. The new Labour Bill even bans teachers from becoming members of a trade union," he said.

Majongwe accused the education ministry of failing to keep its fingers on the nation's pulse as shown by the widespread sexual abuse of students at a Macheke government school.

"We are not arguing that the ministry should not have some control but too much of it is uncalled for. The ministry should address the serious crisis in education sector rather than seek to control who private and church run schools employ."

Chigwedere, a historian and former school head himself, could not be reached for comment on his draft Bill.

Zimbabwe's education system once the envy of the region, is almost on its knees after thousands of trained teachers fled the economic meltdown back home.

The remaining teachers, who are poorly remunerated, make up an unmotivated workforce in poorly equipped schools, with virtually no solution in sight. - ZimOnline

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