Veritas, in partnership with the Association of Rural Teachers Unions of Zimbabwe [ARTUZ], filed an urgent application in the Masvingo High Court to prohibit the use of school property for political purposes and the forced attendance of schoolchildren at political rallies. The learned judge granted our application on 26th June but has not yet issued a written judgment giving his reasons for doing so.
In this Election Watch we shall explain the case and its implications.
ARTUZ and its president were the applicants. Our lawyer was Mr D. Coltart of Mtetwa and Nyambirai. The case was brought against ZANU-PF and the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education in his capacity as the Minister responsible for government schools. Other political parties were not cited as we had no evidence that they were misusing school premises and property.
It has long been a feature of elections in this country for politicians from the ruling party ‒ and possibly from other parties as well ‒ to hold rallies at government schools, to commandeer school buses for transporting people to their rallies, and to compel schoolchildren to attend their rallies and provide entertainment there. Teachers have also been compelled to attend rallies, wear party regalia and contribute to party funds.
This is illegal and always has been:
- School vehicles and other school property belong to the government or to school development committees. They cannot legally be used for party political purposes, or for furthering non-educational objectives.
- Headmasters and teachers who allow school property to be misused are guilty of misconduct under the First Schedule to the Public Service Regulations, 2000.
- Intimidating people to attend rallies is a criminal offence [currently section 45 of the Criminal Law Code, but there were similar provisions in earlier legislation]. It is also prohibited by section 58(2) of the Constitution.
Compelling schoolchildren to attend political rallies amounts to child abuse and is specifically prohibited by section 81(1)(h) of the Constitution.
What the Court Ordered
The court interdicted (i.e. prohibited) ZANU-PF from:
- encouraging or forcing schoolchildren to attend rallies
- causing the closure of schools for any of its rallies or activities
- compelling teachers to attend rallies, to wear party regalia, to prepare performances for children to deliver at rallies, or to make contributions towards rallies
- holding rallies on school premises
- using school property for political purposes, which covers commandeering buses to ferry people to and from their rallies.
The court also prohibited the Minister and his officials from assisting political parties in any of the above activities, and ordered the Minister to take active measures, including the making of regulations, to prevent political parties from abusing school property, staff and schoolchildren.
Effect of the Court’s Order
If any office-bearer of ZANU-PF engages in an activity prohibited by the court, he or she will be guilty of contempt of court and liable to be punished accordingly. He or she may also be liable to criminal prosecution because, as pointed out earlier, many of the prohibited activities are criminal offences.
Although the court’s interdict was directed against ZANU-PF it applies to other parties as well because they have been alerted to the fact that they are not allowed to use school property for political purposes, or to bring schoolchildren to their rallies. If they do they may be subjected to an interdict or, in appropriate cases, to criminal prosecution.
The Minister of Primary and Secondary Education has been put on terms to take measures to stop political misuse of school property and abuse of schoolchildren. These measures should include the making of regulations under the Education Act. If the Minister does not comply with the order, he will be liable to punishment for contempt of court.
It should be noted that the court’s order is not restricted to government schools; its wording is wide enough to apply to all schools. Hence political parties should not use the premises or property of any school, or attempt to dragoon its pupils and teachers into attending rallies.
The order is a provisional order, which means that ZANU-PF and the Minister can appear before the judge and try to persuade him not to make it a final, i.e. a permanent, order. Unless and until they do, however, the order remains in force and they are bound to comply with it.