Keep Soldiers Out of Schools
Zimbabwe is a country at peace, yet it resembles a ‘war zone”. This is especially so as the country prepares for the forthcoming elections with dates set to be announced soon. It was clear from the just ended ZANU PF Congress that the tone for elections has been set. This is despite the fact that reforms to enable a free and fair election have not been implemented to the fullest. Previous elections have shown that violence in Zimbabwe is directly linked to the electoral cycle and increases around major political events where political power is contested. Education is not spared from this violence, including personal attacks on teachers, school pupils, parents, infrastructure and school furniture.
A common feature witnessed during previous elections is the presence of soldiers in communities, supposedly just doing their drills. The fact that they are patrolling in communities that have been at the receiving end of violence is a cause for concern. It has an intimidatory effect given the violence of June 2008. The securocrats have not made the situation any better by making political statements threatening not to respect any election outcome that does not deliver the ZANU PF candidate to power. The military has also retained their presence in communities where in some cases bases are set in schools in what have been referred to as “Operation Maguta”.
The setting up of militia bases in schools have been identified by about 7% of respondents of teachers in Zimbabwe during a national survey conducted by the Research and Advocacy Unit in collaboration with the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe. Military use of schools has been a part of the Zimbabwe history dating back as far as the fight against colonialism. This trend has spilled over in post independent Zimbabwe. However, the difference between the two periods is that whilst militia bases were set up to support the struggle and attack the ‘enemy”, the current experience is that bases are set up to attack the community in which they are set up, therefore terrorising communities.
Some of the uses of schools for military purposes included village operational headquarters, detention and interrogation centers, and various food or grain input distribution schemes such as Operation Maguta.
“The moment a base is set at a school, it is at the expense of the pupils. It exposes pupils to real and potential attacks and other violence. The worst affected is the girl child. It is noted that during conflict the attendance of the girl child especially is affected. The risks include sexual abuse, sexual harassment including rape and these should never be taken lightly.
Military use of education institutions can cause damage to already-fragile education infrastructures and systems. The Zimbabwe Government has not been investing in educational infrastructure and cannot afford to have these bases set up in schools thus hastening the deterioration process. Decent staff housing and school infrastructure is a push factor noted from the study with teachers. In the end, schools in mostly rural areas will not attract qualified personnel.
Some of the educational consequences of military use of schools and other education institutions include the following;
i) High dropout rates. The girl child is mostly affected
ii) Reduced enrollment
iii) Lower rates of transition to higher education levels,
iv) Closure of schools. In 2008 alone, Unicef noted that 94% of all rural schools were forced closed to owing to teachers who had fled attacks directed at them.
v) Direct attacks on teachers.
Zimbabwe needs to urgently adopt policies that explicitly ban or restrict political parties from using education facilities. Schools should be zones of peace, places where the child is provided a safe place to learn and develop. Access to safe education should be priority. This is because quality education unlocks potential, promotes peace and helps young people develop the skills and qualifications they need to build lives for themselves and prosperity for their communities.