I had heard horrifying stories about Renamo incursions into Zimbabwe whenever I spent school holidays with my grandmother in rural Manicaland. I also feared the apartheid regime. Zimbabwe was always awash with rumours South Africa planned to invade Zimbabwe and attack PAC safe houses and freedom fighters. Besides omnipresent regional threats placing a damper on my future, I wondered whether the USSR and USA would annihilate the whole world through a misguided nuclear war.
Through it all I had my full fat milk on time and all of the time at school. That packet of full fat milk represented the efficacy and nobility and selflessness of public sector service delivery. And I had excellent and professional mentors whom I remember with fondness and appreciation. But it was the delicious milk that helped inject rich and rewarding life into my childhood dreams: I wondered if I would do well in class and excel at athletics and football. I walked to and from school every day comfortably cocooned by my immense faith in the social system. That milk is no longer available in primary schools and nor is it free or subsidised nowadays.
Whereas our primary school teachers had wonderful cars and beautiful homes in middle-class suburbs – the current lot of educators in Zimbabwe – like my uncle Mike, who has been a primary school teacher for two decades – is struggling to make ends meet. While we had to worry about external threats and deadly Cold War hostilities disturbing our tranquil lifestyles – primary school children in Zimbabwe will be praying the next elections are free and fair and peaceful. Where we looked forward to fun-filled moments of discovery and playfulness before and after the school bell rang, many pupils now wonder whether they will have a meal at breakfast, lunch and supper.
Beyond party political posturing and sloganeering and loud nationalistic rhetoric about land and economic matters, I wonder whether people are clamouring for cheap and nutritious whole milk for their children. Beyond complex economic indicators that are sometimes hard to decipher for non-economists, I wonder if members of parliament are inundated with inquires about whether that world-class primary education will ever return. Under the able guidance of then-education minister Dr Dzingai Mutumbuka, Zimbabwe set very high standards after independence: roughly 17.2 % of the national budget was allocated to education and the number of primary schools increased by 74% between 1980 and 1984. Zimbabwe became a beacon of education in Africa and achieved an incredible 91% literacy rate.
Regrettably – the education system is in the doldrums reports UNICEF: while 23% of the total national budget spend goes to education, 98% of this allocation is spent on salaries alone; and significantly: about 1.2 million children aged between 3 – 16 are out of school for financial reasons. I recall that when I was in primary school, I simply wanted to learn new things and play and eat and sleep well at night. Nothing more. Any biscuits and sweets and Mazoe Orange Crush I had remained nonessential supplements that my parents could afford. Yet I wonder how well 1.2 million restless and hungry and uneducated children sleep at night. So here is the question that must haunt anyone who ever drank that thirst-quenching milk: will Zimbabwe ever be that great again? And when will the social and economic reconstruction project that is bandied about every two or three years truly begin? The availability of creamy milk in primary schools would be an excellent start to a long awaited resurgence. But Zimbabwe must aim much higher of course and become a leading African nation. Life has changed and so much has happened since the economic crisis began around 2000.
Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira will retire as the best rugby player Zimbabwe has ever produced and a record-breaking South African loose head prop. The Strive Masiyiwa-owned Kwese TV is breaking new ground in Africa from its base in Johannesburg. While First Merchant Bank from Malawi acquired Barclays Zimbabwe. Without dwelling on the terrible performance of the Zimbabwean economy in recent times – the unemployment rate is roughly 80% and 63% of the population live below the International Poverty line – the acquisition of Barclays Zimbabwe by a Malawian company is an impressive piece of business. Malawi currently ranks 170 out of 188 countries on the United Nations Development Index while Zimbabwe ranks higher – at number 154. Yet Zimbabwe had a fairly respectable position on the Index in 1990: 106. Worryingly for every parent raising children in poor and vulnerable communities in Zimbabwe – UNICEF reports that 27 % of children in the nation of 13.8 million people suffer from stunted growth because of malnutrition.
Amid such incredibly debilitating poverty, will Zimbabwean voters elect parliamentarians who can help budding entrepreneurs found technology-based businesses that can rival the likes of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Uber? Zimbabwe boasts a highly educated populace but no substantial innovation in commerce, technology and industry. Like Taiwan – a small island nation with a stable industrial economy that is largely reliant on manufacturing – Zimbabwe should be an expansive and sophisticated commercial hub which hosts world-competing technology and finance-based enterprises and export-oriented manufacturing companies. Will Zimbabweans pore through individual manifestos from ZANU PF, MDC and independent parliamentary candidates and vote for men and women who have the capacity, determination and integrity to do outstandingly well for everyone and not just their children and friends and relatives? Will that tasty milk make a big comeback in primary schools across Zimbabwe?Post published in: Featured