Munyaradzi Wasosa/Eric Chiriga/Loughty Dube
THE government’s decision to close down private schools for allegedly charging exorbitant fees suffered a serious setback when the High Court yest
erday ordered the reopening of Hartmann House Preparatory School in Harare.
However, police yesterday arrested three school heads for defying a government directive to slash fees.
Lundi Park Primary School headmistress Gill Martin, Ruzawi Primary School headmaster Erith Harris and John Calderwood of Peterhouse Boys and Girls High schools, were arrested at their schools yesterday. They were bundled into police vehicles in full view of school children before being whisked away to Marondera Police Station.
Justice Susan Mavangira ordered Hartmann House reopened following an urgent application by lawyers for the parents and teachers of the Catholic-run institution.
“By consent an order is granted by the terms sought,” said Mavangira. The state, which was represented by Farai Ruzive, did not oppose the application.
Yesterday private schools from Bulawayo and Masvingo also filed an urgent application at the High Court in Bulawayo seeking an order to nullify government’s directive to shut down the schools.
The case has been set down for a hearing at the Bulawayo High Court today.
Cited as respondents are Education minister Aeneas Chigwedere, his permanent secretary Stephen Mahere and police commissioner Augustine Chihuri.
The lawyer representing the schools, Richard Majwabu-Moyo of James, Majwabu-Moyo and Partners, said according to the Education Act it was illegal for government to close down schools on a matter that could be resolved through other means.
“There is no provision in the Education Act that gives the Minister of Education powers to shut down schools for raising fees and what he has done is illegal,” Majwabu-Moyo said.
“The schools I represent have over the last two years made applications to the ministry seeking approval for fee increments but they have received no response from government, whether approving or disapproving or even acknowledging receipt of the applications but the schools have to move on,” Majwabu-Moyo said.
The Zimbabwe Independent has established that the Education ministry is imploring schools to sign an agreement not to increase fees without approval.
In an interview with the Independent, Chigwedere said government was considering nationalising all private schools, calling them racist institutions.
“These racist schools are operating like private business empires and government is not ruling out nationalisation,” he said.
Retired army General Vitalis Zvinavashe owns Tynwald Primary and High schools which are among the 45 that have been closed on racist allegations and charging high fees.
Chigwedere cited Lomagundi and Watershed as white racist schools that were attempting to exclude black pupils.
“The major element is that white schools like Watershed and Lomagundi are racist,” he said. “They are conspiring to throw out black pupils by charging exorbitant fees well beyond the reach of many black parents.”
Chigwedere said Lomagundi was proposing an “incredible” $8,8 million per term, while Peterhouse in Marondera was currently charging $9,9 million per term.
Quizzed on the impact of the closure on students writing June and November examinations, Chigwedere said they would not be affected.
“If June students had not made thorough preparations for their exams, then it is not my ministry’s fault,” he said.
Chigwedere said the ministry would cut the August holiday by a week to compensate students for the time lost during closure.
Police have since been deployed to all the schools that have been closed to ensure that no lessons are conducted.
Chigwedere justified the involvement of the police saying some of the headmasters were resisting his ministry’s directives.
Meanwhile the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Education has criticised government’s move to close the schools.
The Independent spoke to committee chairman Fidelis Mhashu, who accused Chigwedere of taking a “militant” decision on the matter.
“When things go wrong, they must be corrected in a fair manner,” he said. “The militant decision taken by the minister is definitely unjustified.”
Mhashu said the Education Act gives the minister and permanent secretary too much power.
“The Act gives Chigwedere too much arbitrary power and definitely needs to be amended,” he said.
Father Fidelis Mukonori, the provincial board chairman for both Hartmann House and St George’s College, declined to comment on the government’s decision.
“I cannot comment on that issue,” he said. “We are dealing with the problem, and I am made to understand that Hartmann will be opening tomorrow (today).”
More than 30 000 pupils have been affected by the closure of private schools. Chigwedere said his ministry’s offices had been besieged by scores of disgruntled parents who were demanding answers from the government.
In a snap survey conducted by the Independent this week, the general feeling was that while it was necessary to review the fee hikes, government was not justified “to resort to such drastic measures”.
Former Zesa boss Simbarashe Mangwengwende said: “As a parent I think this is not the right way of dealing with problems. The government is holding children hostage and this will definitely affect their studies.”