October 7, 2018
High fees keep many children in Zimbabwe out of public schools that are supposed to be open to everyone. In one Harare neighborhood, young adults who lost their chance at education as children say a brand-new public school is too expensive for them to attend.
HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Red soil stretches as far as the eye can see. When a strong wind blows, the makeshift houses that fill this area are blanketed in a layer of dust. This is Hatcliffe, one of the capital’s fastest-growing but poorest neighborhoods.
A young man moves through the dust. His yellow golf shirt, stitched up in places to cover holes, has taken on the red tinge that covers everything here.
Brave Lifa is 27 years old but has yet to finish high school. He dropped out of Hatcliffe Secondary School, the only credible, affordable public high school in the area, because he was ashamed.
“We were made to feel like we were dirty and unwelcome,” he says.
Now, he’s among a group of local people fighting for the right of local children – and even of young adults like him who want to complete their educations – to attend a new, state-of-the-art high school nearby.
That public school, called the Zimbabwe-China Friendship High School, was built with funds from the Chinese government and completed in late 2017. The school has spacious classrooms, a large gathering hall, six laboratories as well as staff offices, among other amenities, says Michael Chitemwe, the former interim chairman for the school.
“We were happy that we finally had our own school,” Lifa says. “Now the administration at the school intends to raise the fees and exclude our youth from being able to access the education they need to get ahead.”
The school initially charged $130 per term – fees that match the ones charged at Hatcliffe Secondary School. But those fees are set to rise to $300, local people say, which would price many local people out of attending.
Representatives of the school did not respond to GPJ’s requests for information.
This isn’t the first time many of Hatcliffe’s poorest residents have been pushed away from the resources that are meant to provide for their basic needs. Lifa was one of the massive number of Zimbabweans forced from their homes in 2005 during a swift and brutal government campaign that razed hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses on the outskirts of Harare and other urban centers. The campaign was formally known as Operation Murambatsvina – the latter word a Shona term that means “Restore Order.” (Shona is a common language in Zimbabwe.) One United Nations report found that as many as 700,000 people throughout Zimbabwe lost their homes, their livelihoods or both. One local organization reported to the U.N. that an estimated 300,000 children were forced to drop out of school because of the operation.
Many of those displaced people wound up in Hatcliffe, which at the time was a cohesive, high-density suburb of Harare, the country’s largest urban center. A portion of Hatcliffe was destroyed in the operation, too. After the 2005 operation, some families were resettled and given land by the government in an area northeast of Hatcliffe that became known as Hatcliffe Consortium. Other families were resettled east of Hatcliffe and formed a neighborhood now known as Hatcliffe Extension.
Hatcliffe Consortium and Hatcliffe Extension, though settled with government approval, operate as informal communities. There are no tarred roads. Most of the homes are built with temporary materials.
Before the Zimbabwe-China Friendship High School opened, residents of all three neighborhoods crowded into Hatcliffe Secondary School.
“Going to school was a privilege,” says Lifa, who lives in Hatcliffe Extension. “My parents did not have much, so I appreciated it.”
But Lifa’s experience there was far from positive. The trek to the school was long – about an hour’s walk from his home – and he and the other children who traveled from Hatcliffe Extension and Hatcliffe Consortium struggled to stay clean. Students from the original Hatcliffe neighborhood mocked Lifa and the others, he says.
“They said we must not get in the school until we are clean, or we will make the walls dirty with our mud,” Lifa says.
Plus, he says, the school was overcrowded. There were simply too many students in the area.
Lifa was eager to attend the Zimbabwe-China Friendship High School, which is a 10-minute walk from where he lives. According to the official line, the fees at the school were supposed to match those at other public schools, so that every local student could attend.
Instead, the school charges fees that are too high for many students from Hatcliffe Extension and Hatcliffe Consortium.
Since Operation Murambatsvina, the area has dealt with what community activist Moreblessing Gwauya calls “turf wars.”
Gwauya, now 29, was nearing the end of what would have been his school years when the operation occurred. He didn’t finish school. Now, he’s taking classes at local colleges to complete his education.
People who live in Hatcliffe “see us as second-class citizens, because we were homeless for a long time,” Gwauya says.
The families that were displaced were initially placed in holding camps before being sent to settle in the new Hatcliffe neighborhoods. Most of those families are still technically homeless, Gwauya says, because they don’t hold title deeds to the land or homes where they live.
In the meantime, Lifa says, he’s in a holding pattern.
“I am doing nothing right now,” Lifa says. “I just survive from day to day, trying to fight for my community.
Kudzai Mazvarirwofa, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona.