End: 31 July 2009.
The issue: failure to realise the right to education
As a result of economic and political instability in Zimbabwe, the
country's education system ground to a complete halt in 2008, denying
millions of children their internationally guaranteed right to free
primary education for all.
In February 2009 UNICEF reported that 94 per cent of Zimbabwean rural
schools were closed. Examinations from 2008 remain unmarked.
An Amnesty International delegation which visited Zimbabwe in March
2009 received reports from parents and teachers that very little
teaching or learning was taking place in most schools except a few
Economic crisis – teachers and parents affected
In 2008, hyper inflation rendered the salaries of the teachers so
meagre that in December 2008 they could buy just one loaf of bread with
a whole month's wage. For those who had to travel to work, the cost of
transport far outweighed their salaries. The teachers went on strike
for extended periods of time throughout the year, stopping work
altogether from around September 2008 to January 2009.
Parents of school-going children were and still are unable to pay the
tuition fees, levies and top-up fees demanded from them for their
children at both primary and secondary school. Communities in rural
Zimbabwe are particularly vulnerable as they bear the burden of caring
for the bulk of Zimbabwe's more than one million children orphaned by
the AIDS pandemic. Many are dependent on food aid and were also exposed
to state sponsored violence in the run up to the 27 June Presidential
election in 2008.
State-sponsored torture and ill-treatment of teachers during elections 2008
Between the March and June elections in 2008 teachers were targeted in
a wave of state-sponsored torture and other ill-treatment directed at
perceived supporters of the MDC or as a result of their affiliation to
the Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ).The PTUZ recorded
the deaths of seven of its members and the harassment, intimidation and
even torture of more than 60 others during this time.
Many teachers left the country, preferring to do menial work in
neighbouring countries. Those who stayed earned a living by trading
informally or finding other ways to make money. In December 2008,
Amnesty International interviewed teachers and other professionals who
had fled to South Africa, who had been harassed and driven from their
communities by war veterans and other ZANU-PF supporters.
Professionals such as teachers and health workers from rural areas
appear to have been particularly targeted because of the suspicion that
they were influential in their communities and were thought to be
likely to sympathise with the MDC. As a result, Zimbabwean children's
education was severely disrupted.
Measures taken by the inclusive government
The strike ended in February 2009 and the teachers went back to work in
late February and early March. The inclusive government has gone some
way to ensure that the teachers remain at work by paying them, as well
as all other civil servants, US$100 a month as an allowance.
An amnesty was also granted by the government to those teachers who had
stopped teaching or left the country. In conjunction with the $100
allowances, the amnesty proved to be an incentive which has resulted in
about 80 per cent of teachers coming back to the classroom. Despite
the amnesty granted in order to provide an incentive for teachers to
come back to the classroom, the Public Service Commission, which is
technically the employer of all civil servants, has been accused of
putting in place excessive measures which many teachers cannot meet in
order for them to get their jobs back. For example, teachers report
having to pay approximately US$23 in photocopying charges and to get
certified copies of their teaching certificates and other documentation
demanded from them by the Public Service Commission. This is
unaffordable for most.
Remaining challenges to realisation of the right to education
Serious problems remain in Zimbabwe's schools. The fees are
unaffordable for the majority of families, including teachers
themselves who have children of their own who need to be educated.
Even though some rural schools were charging as little as US$1 per term
for levies, in a country of 94 per cent formal unemployment even US$1
is unaffordable for many. A parent in rural Bindura district, who is
also a member of School Development Association in charge of setting
the levies, told Amnesty International that 75 per cent of parents at
her school were unable to pay the $1 development levy because they had
no source of income.
The government, which is crippled by the lack of funds in its coffers,
is unable to pay the salaries being demanded to Zimbabwe's
approximately 80,000 teachers and unable to reach its minimum core
obligations to fulfil the right to education. Absenteeism among
teachers is high as they are forced to find other ways of earning a
living in addition to teaching.
Zimbabwean schools are in dire need of teaching materials, text books,
exercise books, chalk, desks and other furniture. Many schools were
looted or vandalised while they were not operational. One teacher
interviewed by Amnesty International in Harare said that she now had
just nine text books to share between the 40 children in her class,
some of whom were forced to stand during lessons because of the lack of
chairs and desks. Parents are also being asked to buy teaching
materials in addition to the tuition fees and levies that they have to
Amnesty International has received reports of continued intimidation of
returning teachers by the people responsible for the beatings and
torture of teachers in 2008, particularly in Mashonaland Central
Children in Zimbabwe lost out on their education during 2008 and the
same risks happening again in 2009 unless urgent measures are taken by
the government, with the support of the international community, to
restore the education sector.
International law and the right to education
Under international law, primary education should be available free to
all. Zimbabwe is a state party to the African Charter on Human and
Peoples' Rights (African Charter) as well as the International Covenant
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) both of which
recognise and guarantee the right of every individual to education.
The role of the international community in supporting the right to education in Zimbabwe:
While the primary obligation clearly lies with the Zimbabwean
authorities to ensure that the right to education is realised, the
international community also has an important role to play.
The donor countries have expressed reservations about providing funding
to assist the government to realise its minimum core obligations with
respect to the right to education, concerned about insufficient
guarantees from the government that money would not be diverted to
other issues or misused.
The government of Zimbabwe urgently needs to put in place a mechanism
that ensures that resources allocated by the international donor
community to education are fully accounted for in a transparent manner
and reach the intended beneficiaries. The absence of such mechanisms is
a barrier to international support to the education sector, among
However, donors have found ways of funding the health system in
Zimbabwe in a way in which both the donors and the government of
Zimbabwe were satisfied with the safeguards employed to ensure
accountability. Donors have opted to fund health directly through an
independent organisation Crown Agents or international organisations
such as UNICEF. This indicates that it should be possible to find ways
of supporting the funding of the education system in the short term,
while the government establishes robust and effective accountability
mechanisms for international donor funding.
In order to ensure that the right to education is realised in Zimbabwe,
Amnesty International's strategy is twofold: on the one hand, AI is
putting pressure on the government of Zimbabwe to ensure that the right
to education is realised in Zimbabwe; and on the other hand AI is
putting pressure on donor countries to support the government of
Zimbabwe to fulfil its minimum core obligations on the right to
Aim and objectives:
Aim: to ensure that the right to education in Zimbabwe is realised
1. The Public Service Commission creates an enabling environment for teachers to return to work.
2. International donor countries assist the government of Zimbabwe
to fulfil its minimum core obligations on the right to education.
3. To show solidarity with teachers in Zimbabwe
Amy Agnew, Africa Programme, Zimbabwe teamPost published in: News