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15 April 2014
Zeynabou Kane

Education under attack: Zimbabwe

Hundreds of university students were unlawfully arrested or unlawfully detained during 2009-2012, and police and state security forces violently repressed several protests at universities. School teachers faced intimidation and death threats, and some schools were used as militia bases.


Zimbabwe experienced ongoing political violence after the emergence in 1999 of the political party the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to challenge Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) for power. This violence was particularly intense during election periods. According to a study by the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), one in two teachers surveyed had directly experienced political violence between 2000 and 2012. Most reported that this violence took place during the school day.1764 The Student Solidarity Trust (SST) reported 211 cases of abduction and torture of university students from 2006 to 2010. In the build-up to the 2008 presidential elections and during their aftermath, attacks on teachers and teacher trade unionists, including killings, arrests, incarcerations, destruction of homes, torture and threats of violence, were reported. Many schools became sites for enforced political rallies in which teachers and head teachers were repeatedly and publicly threatened with death. The political situation changed in 2008, when Morgan Tsvangirai, of the MDC, and President Mugabe came to a power-sharing agreement that lasted until elections in July 2013, which Mugabe won by a landslide. During 2009-2012, there were incidents of political pressure on students and teachers and political use of schools, mostly implicating Zanu-PF supporters, but in one reported incident the MDC was involved. For example, pupils and teachers were ordered to attend a Zanu-PF rally held at Mount Carmel School in May 2011, forcing several schools in Manicaland province to shut on a weekday. In another incident, the MDC organized a rally at Pagwashi Primary School in the Cashel Valley of Chimanimani East that was allegedly disrupted by Zanu-PF supporters, creating a situation that police warned was volatile. Schools were reportedly used in the Zanu-PF campaign against international sanctions, despite a government directive prohibiting it. On one occasion, a senior education official in Chikomba district, Mashonaland East province, ordered that all schools be employed for signing an anti-sanctions petition and that head teachers act as unpaid polling officers to oversee the exercise. There are no recent figures for primary or secondary enrolment. In 2011, gross tertiary enrolment was 6 per cent and the adult literacy rate was 84 per cent.

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