Zim classes empty as kids join parents on farms

Rumbidzai Machova (13) of Govo village in Masvingo, Zimbabwe, has just passed grade seven. Machova has always been at the top of her class and her teachers thought she could turn out to be anything she wanted to be.

However, there is nothing certain anymore for Machova, who has always wanted to be a doctor. Her father, Tobias Machova, has recently moved out of Govo village to a remote farm, under the land redistribution programme.

At the farm where Machova and her family chose to settle there are no schools, clinics and not even borehole water to drink. “I don’t think she will be able to go to school next year,” says Machova’s father. “There are no schools here, especially secondary school, and even if there were schools I am only left with one cow and I cannot sell it to send her to school,” he said.

From the farm where Machova and her family settled the nearest secondary school, Mudavanhu, lies about 50km from the farm. Machova’s case is not unique, according to Unicef Education Project officer in Zimbabwe Saul Murimba. The organisation has been monitoring the movement of children since the beginning of the land redistribution process.

“The patterns are not very clear because some parents are leaving their children in the villages with relatives to attend school while they move into new areas. However, an estimated 200 000 children have been affected,” says Murimba.

According to the Zimbabwean High Commission in South Africa at least a million people have moved from the reserves into farms under the land redistribution programme. The relocation of people to outlying areas has raised fears that the education system and health system may collapse as the Zimbabwean government has no money to develop the infrastructure in the newly occupied areas.

“It is going to affect the provision of education in a very significant way,” said Murimba. “I don’t think the government will be able to provide infrastructure for 90% of the affected areas in the next 10 to 15 years. There hasn’t been enough infrastructure anywhere and this just aggravates the problem”.

Many schools report dwindling pupil numbers since the relocation to remote farms began. “Classes are basically getting empty as more and more children pull out of school to join their families in farms,” says one school principal who refused to be named. “We don’t know if children will come back when schools reopen,” he said.

The Zimbabwean government has not paid much attention to this issue. According to the press secretary for the Ministry of State Information and Publicity, Munyaradzi Hwengere, the priority is on land. “As the president has said, land first and infrastructure will follow.

“The government’s focus at the moment is on land and we will look at education, health and other things at a later stage. Children cannot go to school if they are impoverished. We first deal with the problem of poverty by providing land and then come other things,” Hwengere said.

Recently the Ministry of State Information and Publicity under Professor Jonathan Moyo has published a 100-page document on the land redistribution programme, but the document doesn’t deal with education, health or any other form of development.

Hwengwere said the government will seek aid from international donors to provide the infrastructure for schools, roads, clinics, water, electricity and houses. “We will invite international donors to assist with infrastructure but we will not allow them to interfere with policy issues.”

However, Murimba of Unicef says it is going to be very difficult for the Zimbabwean government to attract foreign donors since international organisations like the United Nations do not support the current policy on land redistribution.

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