IN Ghana there is a proverb that says: “When a leopard wants to devour its young ones, it first accuses them of smelling like goats.”
Over the past four years the Zimbabwean government has d
escended on almost all business sectors threatening to take over the ventures under the pretext of indigenisation or black economic empowerment.
First to be affected were mainly white-owned commercial farms in the year 2000. Private properties were violently invaded, throwing into disarray the well-organised commercial farming system. The invasions resulted in widespread food shortages and loss of employment in the agricultural sector.
Next to “smell like a goat” were the manufacturing industries where unscrupulous indigenous individuals claimed to be solving labour disputes. White-owned ventures were targeted.
In the recent turbulence in the education sector the government has threatened to nationalise all private “racist” schools.
Last week 46 prestigious schools were barred from reopening for the second term for allegedly charging exorbitant fees. The schools were forced to review their fees to December 2003 levels despite the spiralling cost of living and soaring inflation.
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent last week, Education minister Aeneas Chigwedere said the government intended to nationalise all private schools to stop them from operating like private business empires.
“These private schools are not playing a clean game,” Chigwedere said.
“Nationalisation of these private white racist schools is an option we are not ruling out.”
Chigwedere said the private schools were racist because they had their roots in the colonial past. He said the schools would do anything to alienate black pupils by charging unaffordable fees.
“The major element is that white schools like Watershed and Lomagundi are racist. They are conspiring to throw out black pupils by charging fees well beyond the reach of many black parents,” said Chigwedere.
Among the allegedly racist white schools were two owned by retired army general Vitalis Zvinavashe, Tynwald primary and high schools.
Investigations by the Independent have revealed that ruling party chefs, including ministers, send their children to upmarket schools such as Hartmann House — a preparatory school for St George’s College — Arundel, Heritage and Peterhouse.
Analysts have questioned the government’s intention to nationalise the schools saying the state does not have the capacity to run them given that it is failing to run its own schools.
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) shadow education minister Fidelis Mhashu said it was too ambitious for the government to think of nationalising private schools anytime soon.
“The government is failing to provide adequate facilities to pupils at its schools currently,” Mhashu said. “How can it nationalise private schools when it is failing to maintain its own?”
Mhashu added: “The arbitrary closure of private schools by Chigwedere in cahoots with the police is illegal.
“There is no provision in the current Education Act that says the minister (of education) can close schools over increase of fees.”
The MDC legislator said the government should consider the educational contribution being made by private schools.
“By nationalising these schools the government will be failing to appreciate the contribution they have made over the years in producing leading bankers, politicians and a number of highly ranked personalities both in government and the private sector,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s schools are generally classified into grades. Grades A and B are government schools, church schools are grade C, while private (independent) schools fall under grade D.
The Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council (Zimsec) provided a list of top 50 advanced level school rankings for last year’s November examinations in which government schools were said to have performed better than private ones.
No government school however made it into the top 10 category, which was dominated by private church-run schools such as St John’s Secondary School and St Ignatius College.
In March, Chigwedere said there was no reason for private schools to increase their fees given that they had a “poor record” in terms of examination results.
“We have schools that are charging the highest and are producing the worst academic results,” he said, referring to private schools.
What Chigwedere conveniently ignored was that the majority of pupils at most private schools prefer to take Cambridge examinations instead of local Zimsec examinations whose marketability is suspect.
At St George’s College, two-thirds of the pupils wrote “A” level Cambridge examinations and had good grades. Only a third of pupils from private schools wrote Zimsec examinations.
Mhashu said Chigwedere was skirting facts by saying private schools have poor academic results.
“This is a classic example of confusion on the part of the minister,” Mhashu said. “He is running away from the fact that most students shun local examinations because of the corruption at Zimsec.”
In a snap survey, the Independent found that most parents whose children attend private schools prefer to have them write Cambridge examinations.
It costs up to $900 000 a term for a pupil to enrol at a government boarding institution such as Goromonzi High School, while a private school like Peterhouse in Marondera charges at least $3,3 million.
While fees are seemingly low at government schools, the facilities are far from ideal. Parents fork out hundreds of thousands of dollars for food and other essentials that the schools fail to provide.
Pupils attending government schools now have to source their own stationery, including textbooks. They must also bring their own food to supplement the meagre rations provided by the schools.
By contrast, private schools provide everything from uniforms to textbooks. The reluctance by the government to increase its per-capita grants to schools is one cause for concern.
In January the dubiety of Zimbabwe’s examinations system was exposed at Mnene Primary School in Mberengwa.
It was revealed that the school headmaster and three teachers wrote and filled in answer sheets for dozens of grade seven pupils.
The then Education permanent secretary Thomson Tsodzo declared that results of more than 50 pupils at the school would stand as genuine.
The government has ordered all private schools that had increased their fees to revert to December 2003 fees or they would not be allowed top re-open.
“If these private schools continue dilly-dallying and shilly-shallying,” Chigwedere warned, “they will remain closed.”
Peterhouse, which had increased fees to $9,9 million, has since slashed them to $3,3 million.