Even if children find a school in Zimbabwe, there are no books or teachers

school_kids.jpgFounded in 1957, Hartmann House is on the same site as St George's College, Harare, not far from Zimbabwe House, the President's official residence

The school's aim is to form true men, as good in the classroom as in
the field, who will hold their places in the world and be leaders of

Early every morning a chauffeur-driven car delivers Robert Mugabe’s
youngest son, Bellarmine, to Hartmann House, the prep school for St
George’s College, the oldest and most prestigious private boys’ school
in Zimbabwe.

Young Master Mugabe wears a red cap and blazer, just like the 350 other
boys whose parents spend nearly US$1,000 a term — a small fortune in
Zimbabwe — to attend the elite institution with its tree-lined drives
and acres of verdant cricket fields in central Harare. Only the
permanent presence of two bodyguards sets him apart from his peers.

Bellarmine’s enrolment, and that of the sons of two other Zanu (PF)
ministers, does not thrill Brendan Tiernan, who has spent 28 years
teaching at St George’s and is now its headmaster. He finds it hard to
accept that these boys should be receiving such a fine and expensive
education at a time when the Mugabe regime has all but destroyed
Zimbabwe’s once-proud public schools system.

I’m surprised their parents would be willing to preside over the awful
collapse of education in this country given how highly they value it
for their own children, he told The Times. It’s problematic for me.

Mr Tiernan’s discomfort is easy to understand. Not many years ago
Zimbabwe boasted the highest educational standards in Africa. Its
literacy rate rivalled America’s and 96 per cent of its children
attended school. Much of the credit for that enviable record belonged
to Mr Mugabe, who began his career as a teacher, earned half a dozen
degrees during 11 years of imprisonment by the Rhodesian authorities,
and lavished attention on Zimbabwe’s schools in the early years of

Today that education system has collapsed almost as completely as
Zimbabwe’s once celebrated health, agricultural and industrial sectors.
Of its 130,000 teachers, roughly 60,000 have left the country, the
profession or both because hyperinflation rendered their salaries
worthless. Of the rest, most are now on strike, demanding payment in
foreign currency. The majority of the country’s 6,000 schools either
failed to reopen when term belatedly began last week, or are catering
only for the few whose parents can scrape together US dollars to pay
the teachers.

It seems scarcely possible but Zimbabwe’s 3.5million schoolchildren are
likely to receive even less education this year than last when strikes,
elections and violence meant they spent an average of 27 days at
school, and their O levels and A levels went unmarked. The Government
now spends just 18 US cents a child on education, meaning Mr Mugabe
spends more on educating Bellarmine each term than his Government
spends on 5,000 ordinary schoolchildren in a year.

The system is in tatters… A generation is at risk of growing up
without any education, said Rachel Pounds, Save the Children’s country
director. Education is the engine that drives Zimbabwe’s future and
that future is now at risk, said Tsitsi Singizi, Unicef’s spokeswoman
in Harare, adding that a quarter of Zimbabwe’s children are orphans and
schools provide priceless protection against exploitation and abuse.

The Education Ministry seems unconcerned. It convened a meeting of
international donors and NGOs at the Sheraton hotel in Harare last week
then failed to send a single representative. It’s outrageous. The
future of Zimbabwe’s children is just not important to them,
complained one Western official.

In the slums of southern Harare yesterday, barely five miles from the
manicured grounds of Hartmann House, ragged, barefooted children who
should have been at school played in rutted streets lined by mounds of
rotting garbage. Lucia and Linda Madzise, aged 13 and 9, were looking
after their three-year-old brother Maxwell. They used to attend
Chitsere primary school but have not been since August last year and
now the only pupils who still go are those whose parents could raise
US$10 a term. Many mornings, said Lucia, she and her sister put on
their faded checked cotton uniforms and went anyway but we’re always
turned away.

The Times found Janet Chimnadza leaving Highfield secondary school with
her identical twin daughters, Lisa and Leosa, both 12 and wearing their
primary school uniforms. Since 6am, and on each of the past five days,
they had been walking around the city, looking for a secondary school
that was still open and would accept the twins without charging. It’s
very painful. Sometimes I cry. I’m very, very worried about their
future, Mrs Chimnadza said. It’s what we want most of all, the girls
replied when asked how badly they wanted to go to school.

In a primary school that once had 1,400 pupils and 40 staff, a
headmaster, who asked to remain nameless, sat alone with his deputy in
his spartan office, watched over by a portrait of Mr Mugabe. Right now
we don’t have a single teacher, he said.

His own salary last month was Z$42trillion — roughly US$2 at that time.
Even if the children were to return, the school had no chalk,
stationery, working telephones or useable toilets. Outside his window
the sports field was waist-high in grass.

I’m sad and angry, he said. We used to have very good education in
Zimbabwe. We were very committed to our work but today you ask why you
should work if you’re not paid.

The headmaster will soon have to retire at 65, but his pension will be worthless. I’ll go home and wait to die, he said

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