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06 May 2004 15:49
A Zimbabwe court on Thursday ordered the reopening of one of the country’s top private schools, among 46 institutions closed by the government for hiking tuition fees without official permission.
The court victory may open up the floodgates for similar court action by other schools affected by the government decision.
Justice Susan Mavhangira from the Harare High Court declared the closure order “null and void” at the request of the parents and teachers of Hartmann House Preparatory School during a hearing at which the government also bowed to the demand for a reopening.
“By consent an order is granted by the terms sought,” said Mavhangira.
State lawyer Farai Ruzive said the government has agreed to grant the request to reopen the school.
Representing the parents and teachers, lawyer Innocent Chagonda said “the law has prevailed” and welcomed the judge’s decision to declare the minister’s actions “null and void”.
The directors of 17 private schools in the second city of Bulawayo were on Friday to appear in court to press for a similar order overturning closures in their area.
About 30Â 000 children enrolled at the 46 private schools on Tuesday either found their schools closed or were turned away by police on what was supposed to be the first day of the mid-year term.
Minister of Education Aeneas Chigwedere on Tuesday condemned the fee hikes—some of which are as high as Z$30-million a year—as “racist”.
“We are dealing with racist schools. They are all former white schools—all racist,” Chigwedere told state television.
“They throw Africans out simply by hiking fees.”
President Robert Mugabe also recently slammed the fee hikes, saying they were putting the country’s goal of education for all in jeopardy.
The schools, which the government describes as elitist, are attended mainly by children of the country’s middle classes, but also by the children of government and ruling-party officials.
The schools have cited escalating costs, mainly a result of runaway inflation currently estimated at more than 580%, as the reason for raising the fees.
In Bulawayo lawyer Richard Majwabu, representing the governing bodies of the 17 schools in and around the city in southwestern Zimbabwe, said the education ministry does not have the authority to shut them down.
“What the ministry has done is illegal,” Majwabu said.
“The ministry is not punishing the schools but the students,” he said, adding the court will hear their complaint on Friday.
A delegation of parents who met with the education minister on Wednesday pointed out to him that it is not uncommon to find that 80% of students at some private schools are black, the state-run Herald reported.
The International Monetary Fund said in a report on the country’s economy in March that many low-income parents could not afford school fees, and that school enrolment stood at 65% in 2003.—Sapa-AFP
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