- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

HARARE, Zimbabwe — With the new school year set to begin next month, the government of President Robert Mugabe has ordered a tenfold increase in fees at state schools, forcing many parents to stop educating their children.

“That’s it. It’s the end,” said a father of two in a suburban supermarket east of the capital, Harare, looking for something he could afford to feed his family.

“We won’t send the children to school next year. There is nothing else to do.”

The man, a junior civil servant in a vehicle-repair workshop on the edge of the city, added: “Don’t ask my name; you know why.”

Parents run the financial affairs at most of the 6,000-plus government schools in Zimbabwe, and they have been holding meetings to set fees for January.

With interest rates soaring to between 400 percent and 500 percent and inflation topping 1,000 percent according to private-sector economists, governing bodies say they have no alternative but to ask parents to pay more for school.

At one high school, in the Mabvuku township, about 10 miles east of Harare, fees are going up less than in many other places, from about 75 cents to about $7.50 a term.

It is a school for children in a working-class neighborhood where up to 80 percent are unemployed.

At Lewisam Primary, a government school in a richer suburb, where the pupils come from middle-income families, fees have gone up from about $2.80 to about $37.

Education Minister Aenias Chigwedere blamed “unscrupulous” schools, rather than the economy, for the increases, which he condemned as a scandal.

The hard-currency value of the Zimbabwean dollar does not reflect the extraordinary and unprecedented pain of the ordinary family trying to feed itself and pay school fees.

A U.S. dollar is equivalent to about 15,000 Zimbabwean dollars on the black market, which is where most foreign currency changes hands, including at banks.

Most factories are now paying their lowest-paid workers about $18 a month. Rent, fuel and other everyday items are priced according to the black-market value of U.S. dollars and are therefore out of reach of many workers.

World Bank statistics on Zimbabwe show that two years ago it had the highest literacy rate in Africa, at about 97 percent between the ages of 15 and 24. Last year, 2.4 million children attended school and were served by 61,000 teachers.

Fidelis Mahashu, a lawmaker from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said: “The quality of education is deteriorating fast, and the new school fees must not be used by the government to prevent children from going to school.

“Every child has a fundamental right to education, and fees must be affordable. It is the responsibility of the government to not only superintend schools, but to provide adequate funds so every child can go.”

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