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the hard way in Zimbabwe
Duval Smith, The Guardian (UK)
View this article
on The Guardian (UK) website
In the old kitchen
at Dunstan farm, desks have been pushed up against the cream-coloured
Aga. Children are having a maths lesson. The dining room where black
staff served three generations of the Cullinan family is also a
A decade after
President Robert Mugabe launched a "fast-track" resettlement
programme that chased 4,500 white commercial farmers off the land,
Zimbabwe's rural landscape has been transformed. The whites who
owned vast tracts of land have been replaced by 150,000 black small-scale
farmers and their families, creating the need for a rethink in the
provision of education and health facilities. Yet western donors
to this country that once prided itself on having the best education
in Africa are reluctant to support people living on contested land.
Obed Saki, 43, says 293 children attend the primary school in the
once-grand Italianate villa. "It opened in 2002, but we only
received textbooks in 2010," he says. "The parents of
these children have each been given offer letters for six hectares
of land. Some are producing tobacco and doing well, but others are
struggling for lack of seed and fertiliser so we have capped the
fees at $8 per term."
On a tour of
the school and grounds, Saki says he is proud to be running one
of Zimbabwe's so-called satellite schools - learning facilities
for the children of Mugabe's land revolution. But he is frustrated
at the slow progress towards normalising the lives of the new settlers.
"Parents who can afford to send their children to better-equipped
schools in town will do so. The children here are the worst off."
Saki is one
of seven teachers at the school. He adds: "The farmhouse was
initially occupied by war vets [land occupiers deployed by the ruling
party], and we were teaching in the barns. But in 2004, we convinced
the war vets to hand over the house, which had electricity. Now
we have classrooms on the ground floor and the teachers sleep in
six rooms upstairs. Unfortunately, most of the cables were stolen
in 2006 so we no longer have electricity."
In the grounds
of the house, built on 3,600 hectares (9,000 acres) by the late
Leslie Cullinan, son of the diamond magnate Sir Thomas Cullinan,
the new occupants of the land have planted maize in a perfect rectangle
that was once a tennis court. The double garage is a classroom with
a piece of plywood for a blackboard. In the scullery, 40 children
in "early childhood development" sit on the floor, and
their teacher has a wooden bench. In the garden room - flooded
with light through half-broken French windows - the teacher's
desk has been confected from planks and a metal frame found in a
have done a lot to get the school working," says Saki, who
receives a standard teacher's salary of $249 per month from the
government. He and his prison-officer wife Matilda - who lives
30km away in the capital, Harare, with the couple's two children
- are on the waiting list for land.
four and six have furniture," he says. "It was bought
by one of the parents. But we have hardly any books. We need novels
and short stories - and latrines. Actually, we need a proper
school. We have pegged a suitable plot for a building, but who knows
when the government will build it? The nearest secondary school
is five kilometres from here but there is a river in the way and
in the rainy season the children cannot go for two or three weeks."
minister, David Coltart, admits that Zimbabwe's satellite schools
- 1,363 facilities out of a total 8,000 primary and secondary
schools - are "problematic". But he denies his ministry,
which is controlled by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change,
is reluctant to support schools on formerly white-owned land. Coltart
says his ministry lacks money to maintain and improve mainstream
schools, let alone ones that have sprung up as a result of land
reform. "We have done as much as we can in the short term.
We have ensured that all children in Zimbabwe have textbooks and
teachers. We simply do not have the resources to ensure they have
adequate buildings and facilities. That would require the government
to cut back on foreign travel and defence spending."
Britain is one
of the main funders of the UN Children's Fund, Unicef, in Zimbabwe.
It contributed $9m to Unicef's programme to distribute 22m textbooks.
Last month, the Department for International Development (DfID)
announced a further $38m for education in Zimbabwe. But no mention
was made of satellite schools, and DfID executives are emphatic
that no UK taxpayers' money is given to resettled farmers on contested
The Unicef country
director Peter Salama says the impact of Britain's contribution
to education in Zimbabwe was "very tangible". But he concedes
that it may be time to rethink how money is spent: "Unicef's
mission, regardless of politics, is to support vulnerable women
and children. We acknowledge there are new realities, and that women
and children are part of these realities."
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