Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1591101-The-Violence-Degree
by Sarah
Rated: 13+ · Essay · Political · #1591101
How One Man Has Stolen an Entire Generation's Education.
2,294 words

The ceiling board is mouldy and in many places has rotted, exposing the rusting roof and crumbling wooden beams. Water seeping through the roof has stained the walls, causing the paint to blister. As it dries and crumbles it covers the floor with white plaster dust. A few pieces of glass are scattered in the dust, remnants of window panes once shielding pupils during the hot summer months. On the roof the empty fluorescent light tube unit is covered in spider webs.

A soft breeze wafts into the room through the empty wooden window frames, emphasising the eerie silence of the derelict room. Only the worn, scratched blackboard on the wall behind the shabby desk indicates this room was once a classroom filled with children, thirsty for the knowledge their enthusiastic teacher was ready to teach them.

On top of the desk a shining, heavy piece of metal is incongruous in the dilapidated room. On closer inspection it appears to be a broken guillotine cutter, very similar to the one in my own junior school classroom. I remember watching my own teacher lower the blade to slice through a thick pile of paper. The knife lies on the flat metal plate, its rusted blade dull and blunt. The plate is dirty, but the streaks covering it look like thick red fountain pen ink.

In the surreal, unnatural silence the red stain speaks volumes. It’s not ink, it’s blood, and it’s a grim testament to what happens here at night. This classroom is in a primary school in Mutoko, a rural area 130 kilometres from Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city. It has been commandeered by President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) militia, and at night they assume the role of teachers.

The so-called "militia" comprises people loyal to Robert Mugabe and his political party. They are paid to inflict violence on those who support the oppositon Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, fronted by former labour unionist leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Their "lessons" consist of inflicting brutal physical and mental torture upon their "students". Inside the classroom people are savagely beaten. Their arms and legs are deliberately broken. The bare soles of their feet are whipped until raw and bleeding. In some cases burning plastic is dripped onto open wounds.

The torture continues throughout the night. Age and gender are no barriers to the perpetrators - elderly women and small children are shoved into the room, and made to listen and watch as violence is unleashed. At dawn the victims are abandoned. Their attackers have warned the nearby clinics and hospitals that anyone assisting their victims will meet the same fate in the classroom.

As the militia disappear for the day to rest and prepare for the following night's "lessons", the courageous villagers rush to help their wounded friends. They use all and any means at their disposal to get help for the injured people. One woman used her battered wheelbarrow to push her husband ten kilometres along a dirt road to the nearest clinic. He could not walk, because both his feet had been broken.

Last year’s March elections saw a win for the MDC. For the first time since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 Robert Mugabe lost a presidential election. His rival, Morgan Tsvangirai was declared the winner. It took five weeks to release the results of the elections, which were widely condemned by international observers as being rigged. It is thought that because the massive turnout was so overwhelmingly in support of Morgan Tsvangirai it was impossible for Robert Mugabe to be declared the outright winner. Unfortunately Zimbabwe’s flawed and inconsistent electoral laws meant Tsvangirai’s win was not enough to secure him an outright victory, so a second election was scheduled for June 27.

As expected Mugabe’s militia immediately unleashed a wave of violence across the whole country. Torture centres were established in rural villages and schools. The ensuing violence left hundreds of people dead and thousands more seriously injured. In the wake of this campaign of terror and intimidation Tsvangirai withdrew from the election, leaving Mugabe the unopposed candidate and ultimate victor.

Teachers were accused of supporting the opposition MDC by the ZANU-PF militia, who arrested over one hundred teachers and several school principals on charges of committing electoral fraud. Some were victimised in front of crowds of people forced to watch the militia carry out “re-education”. Thousands more were verbally and physically abused in front of the children from their classes. Six teachers were murdered.

Thousands of Zimbabwean school teachers had worked as election officers during the school holidays in April. This was not out of choice, but because of the desperate need to supplement their meagre incomes. When the second school term opened in May, more than nine thousand teachers did not return to their schools. Some sought refuge in town, too afraid to return to their classes and students. Most fled Zimbabwe, finding employment in neighbouring South Africa and in the United Kingdom, working as caregivers, waiters and housekeepers.

Before Zimbabwe’s economic collapse in the year 2000, after the farm invasions ordered by Robert Mugabe, teachers were among the best paid civil servants in the country. By January 2009 Zimbabwe’s inflation peaked at 231 million percent - the highest in the world. Teachers were earning the equivalent of US$12 per month, equivalent to the price of a dozen loaves of bread. When contrasted with the US$25 the members of Robert Mugabe’s militia received every month it’s clear that education was very low on the list of ZANU-PF’s priorities.

Zimbabwe’s entire education sector has been adversely affected by Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF government. At independence in 1980 Zimbabwe’s education system was one of the best in Africa. Based on the British schools’ system, Zimbabwe’s government schools offered affordable kindergarten, primary and secondary education.

Schools were well equipped and staffed with expert teachers, offering a wide range of lessons and courses. Extra-curricular sports like rugby, hockey, tennis, netball and swimming were available, with all students expected to participate in at least two physical activities every week. Only a medical or religious excuse was acceptable for non-participation. For the less physical scholars afternoon activities included art, cooking and sewing lessons. In addition many schools had extensive libraries, usually stocked with an array of fiction and non-fiction titles.

In the mid-1990s the Ordinary Level pass rate - written at the age of 16 or 17 - was a respectable 72 percent. By 2007 the pass rate had slid to just eleven percent, with many schools recording zero passes among their students.

At independence Zimbabwe had one university, located in the capital city Harare. This university offered degrees accepted all over the world. Its medical and veterinary faculties were regarded as the best in Africa. Students wishing to study at this university needed to pass Advanced Level examinations, completed after six years study at high school. South African universities accepted students with Matriculation Level passes, attained after five years’ study.

Today Zimbabwe has four universities, but last year not one of them was able to complete a full term. Not only were students and teachers subjected to intimidation and harassment on campus, the country’s infrastructure was crumbling, so water and electricity power cuts adversely affected the universities.

While the university and the private schools never excluded students on racial and ethnic grounds, government schools were racially segregated until 1979. After independence the new Zimbabwe government ensured all schools received equal and adequate funding. New schools were built in the rural areas and additional schools constructed in the more densely populated urban centres. Schools that had lacked libraries and sport fields benefited as Robert Mugabe’s government declared that education was something every child deserved.

It is estimated that the policies endorsed by Robert Mugabe and his ZAN PF party have robbed an entire generation of an education. One teacher at a rural secondary school in Shamva, 60 kilometres from Harare, leaves his house every morning before sunrise to work on a nearby pig farm, cleaning the animals and their pens. His weekly payment is a bag of maize.

"I am doing this dirty work because my salary can no longer afford to buy food for my family. I have since lost my dignity as a teacher in a community," said the teacher, a father of three. When the school term started he negotiated shifts with the farmer to fit in with school times.

School children in the urban areas have also been affected by the violence and policies of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF. Memory Sibanda is six years old, a primary school student at one of the government schools in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city. At the beginning of the school year in January, Memory’s school asked parents to buy chairs for the children. The bankrupt Zimbabwe government can no longer provide the basic infrastructure for their primary schools. So not only does Memory carry her books to school with her; she also has to take a chair so she can attend the lessons which will form the foundation for the rest of her life.

When the second school term ended on August 07, 2009, she was congratulated by her teachers for being the top student in her grade one class. Little Memory’s accomplishment is remarkable. Her parents cannot afford the bus fare to enable their daughter to get to school, so she walks a total of twenty kilometres every day to her classes and back home again. The family eats just one meal a day, sacrificing money normally used to buy food to pay for their daughter’s education.

Education is highly prized in Zimbabwe. Every morning groups of schoolchildren gather in the morning sunlight to walk to school, chattering excitedly amongst each other. Like Memory’s parents most families make huge sacrifices to ensure a child can attend school. Their uniforms are usually clean and neatly ironed, but shabby and faded with age because they’ve been handed down by siblings or friends.

For those schools fortunate enough to still have teachers the physical deterioration of the classrooms does not deter the children from attending lessons. In some schools up to ten pupils will share one textbook. Where there are no desks and no chairs they simply sit on the floor. One school in Bulawayo used its wooden seating benches to provide Ordinary Level students with material for the practical section of their examinations. The benches cannot be replaced because there is no money.

Zimbabwe’s few private schools retain their standards because parents are asked to supplement teachers' salaries. When the ZANU-PF government was in power it tried to force the private schools to lower their fees, so they would fall in line with the government-controlled schools. The private schools established different levies which enabled them to raise the funds to retain their teaching staff and so continue to offer their students good education.

When the ZANU-PF government ordered that private school teachers be paid a minimum wage equivalent to that earned by the government school teachers parents came forward, and paid the teachers with commodities like flour, salt, sugar and fuel. The teachers would hand all these products to the headmaster, who oversaw equal distribution of the items among the teaching staff. This allayed any accusations of bribery against individual parents and/or teachers.

Ironically, some of Robert Mugabe’s allies and cronies in his ZANU-PF government enrolled their children in these private schools, shunning the government schools their political party had destroyed. Others sent their children to neighbouring countries to be educated. Robert Mugabe’s daughter enrolled at the Convent Catholic School in Harare, and is currently studying at university in Hong Kong under an assumed name. His sons attend private schools in Harare.

In February Zimbabwe’s embattled political parties formed a government of national unity. The Ministry of Education is now in the hands of the MDC, under the guidance of David Coltart. The minister estimates his ministry needs US$95 million every month in order to run smoothly and efficiently.

The Zimbabwe government generates just US$70 million in taxes every month. Coltart has managed to obtain salary increases for government employed teachers, but at US$155 per month this is still far below the estimated US$500 per month living costs for an average Zimbabwean family of five.

This week Coltart told parliament it was acceptable for parents to pay for their children’s school fees using livestock such as goats and chickens, as long as the relevant school authorities approved payment in kind. Proof, if any further was needed, that Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF have indeed taken education back several centuries.

Robert Mugabe, the architect of the destruction of Zimbabwe’s education system was, during the 1950s, a teacher. It is under his guidance that education has almost completely collapsed. Experts say he has allowed the destruction of Zimbabwe’s education sector because he understands the potential of teachers as agents for change, empowering young minds to rationalise events and arrive at their own conclusions.

From 1965 to 1975 Robert Mugabe was jailed by the then Rhodesian government. During those eleven years he studied and passed six degrees, in addition to the Bachelor of Arts degree he earned at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa prior to his arrest. By all accounts Robert Mugabe was a dedicated student, devoted to his studies. His prison warders tell of his absolute devotion to his studies, and the piles of books in his cell.

Yet it appears his eighth degree is the one of which he is most proud. He boasts that he has “a degree in violence”, and it is this “academic achievement” he has used against his people for almost 30 years. Sadly the state of Zimbabwe’s education system is testament to what Robert Mugabe’s favourite degree has done to his country.
© Copyright 2009 Sarah (zwisis at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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