Court Case to Stop Misuse of Schools and Abuse of Schoolchildren for Election Purposes: Election Watch 30 / 2018

Update and Comment on ZANU-PF Response

ZEC Urged to Take Action

Last month Veritas, with the Association of Rural Teachers Unions of Zimbabwe [ARTUZ], launched 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 Judge granted the application on 28th June and issued a provisional interdict prohibiting ZANU-PF from:

  • 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

The court also prohibited the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education 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.

The Case is Non-Partisan: It should be noted that Veritas and ARTUZ are not taking up this issue to strike a blow to ZANU-PF, as was suggested by one newspaper. We do not take political sides. We are taking up this case to strike a blow for children’s and teachers’ rights, the correct use of our educational resources, and for the rule of law and constitutionalism.

If there is evidence of other political parties using schools, school buses, teachers and schoolchildren for party-political purposes we will do our best to ensure that any court ruling also applies to them.

Court Decision Praised by United Nations: The court’s decision was praised by the United Nations as being in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, that the best interests of the child must be the paramount consideration in every situation and at all times. [UN statement link]

In Line with Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Report: In 2017 the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission investigated complaints by various teachers’ unions about ZANU-PF’s misuse of school premises and property and abuse of schoolchildren. Its conclusions were:

“The compelling of children and teachers (and to contribute financially for teachers) to attend political rallies is a violation of their right to freedom of association and assembly in terms of the Constitution. … It was also noted that there was abuse of school property and other public property as the ruling party tried to secure attendance at their political rallies. There was use of vehicles from schools and other public institutions which is undesirable.”

The Commission recommended various measures to stop the abuses, but its report and its recommendations were ignored. [ZHRC Report link]

Response by ZANU-PF

ZANU-PF has responded to the High Court’s interdict by filing a notice of appeal which is noteworthy for its vagueness and does not address the real issue in the case, namely the illegality of compelling children and their teachers to attend political rallies and of using school property for political purposes [For those interested, the response and all the other court papers are on Veritas Website [link].] The effect of noting the appeal was to suspend the High Court’s interdict pending the hearing of the appeal.

The Supreme Court will hear ZANU-PF’s appeal on the 27th July, too late for the appeal court’s decision to have any impact on the conduct of ZANU-PF and other parties in their current electoral campaigns – polling day will be only three days later.

Abuse of Schools and School Children Continuing:

In the meantime, ZANU-PF has ignored the interdict. According to ARTUZ, during the period 6th-8th July, the party held a rally at Arcturus Mine to which supporters and schoolchildren were transported in school buses. The President [in his role as a presidential candidate] himself addressed a rally at Mapfungautsi Primary School in Gokwe which schoolchildren were forced to attend, and buses from various schools were used to ferry supporters to it. The party also convened a rally at Liebenberg High School in Chivhu which teachers from the surrounding district were asked to attend. These incidents are confirmed by photographs, press reports and letters from teachers.

Undemocratic Conflation of Party and State

ZANU-PF’s conduct is just one example of the conflation of ruling party and State which has been a feature of Zimbabwe’s political life since 1980. Senior members of ZANU-PF have regarded the party as the real government of Zimbabwe with the right to use, commandeer and dispose of State assets for its own purposes. This attitude is inimical to democracy and good governance, which section 3 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe defines as including “a multi-party democratic political system”.

Veritas / ARTUZ Urgent Application Lodged

Veritas and ARTUZ therefore instructed their lawyer, Mr Doug Coltart, to lodge an urgent application with the Masvingo High Court seeking an order that the court’s interdict should remain in force pending the hearing of the appeal. This seems the only way to stop the continuing abuse.

Appeal to ZEC:

Stop political Parties Use of State Resources and Abuse of School Children

The repeated abuse of children and State property is deplorable.

Veritas appeals to ZEC, as the body responsible for ensuring that electoral campaigns are conducted fairly in accordance with the law, to put a stop to this abuse of schoolchildren and misuse of school premises and property.

Holding political rallies at government schools; commandeering school buses for transporting people to rallies; compelling schoolchildren to attend rallies and provide entertainment there; and making teachers attend rallies, wear party regalia and contribute to party funds: all these are illegal and always have 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.
  • Teachers are civil servants and as such are supposed to be politically neutral. The Constitution of Zimbabwe prohibits civil servants from being partisan or furthering the cause of any political party. Teachers who allow school property to be misused are guilty of misconduct under regulations governing their conditions of service.
  • Intimidating people to attend rallies is a criminal offence in Zimbabwe. It is also prohibited by the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
  • Compelling schoolchildren to attend political rallies amounts to child abuse and is specifically prohibited by the Constitution.

Moreover teachers stand in loco parentis towards their pupils and have heavy responsibilities towards them. Children who are in their teachers’ charge should not be allowed to leave school property without a letter from their parents giving permission for them to go out with a specific person or persons. If teachers allowed pupils to leave their schools to attend political rallies they would be grossly irresponsible because rallies are not safe environments for children: there can be intra- and inter-party violence and crushes in which people get injured, and recently an explosion at a presidential rally killed and injured several people. If a political party compels teachers to bring schoolchildren to its rallies or even ferries willing pupils to rallies without parental permission, the party is acting very irresponsibly, perhaps even criminally. The argument put forward by some political parties that children attend voluntarily is not tenable.

Source: Veritas

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