SW Radio Africa (London)

Zimbabwe: Govt Urged to Declare Schools 'Peace Zones' Ahead of Elections

Zimbabwe's coalition government is being urged to immediately declare all schools across the country 'peace zones' before the next election, with warnings that teachers will once again be targets of political violence.

This recommendation was made in a new report on the affect violence in Zimbabwe over the past decade has had on the education system, particularly on teachers. The report, compiled by the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) is titled: "'Fragility' and education in Zimbabwe: Assessing the impact of violence on education."

The report explains that in post-independence Zimbabwe, education has been both "politicized and militarised by the setting up of militia bases in schools, attacking teachers, and exposing pupils to violence."

"The impact of the attacks can have serious long-term consequences. Politically motivated violence against teachers does not only affect the teachers in person, but affects the prospects of better communities in general and the nation at large," the RAU report states.

The report also explains that the long term impact of years of targeted violence is now being experienced, and the result is a compromised education system. For example, schools in the rural areas that have experienced high levels of violence "have continuously failed to attract qualified teachers and are increasingly manned by temporary teachers." The report adds that pass rates have also been very disappointing, "with some schools recording zero percent pass rates in public examinations."

"Some of the more direct effect of attacks on teachers include closure of schools, as happened in 2008 when 94% of all rural schools were reported to have closed as teachers fled attacks. Even when schools don't close, attendance is affected, with the impact felt more by girl children. When militia bases are set up in schools or within the proximity of schools, they pose a real and potential danger for pupils of abuse, especially rape or sexual abuse of girls," the RAU report warns.

The report also details how 70,000 teachers fled the country between 2000 and 2008 after being directly targeted in campaigns of violence, mainly over election periods. The RAU report now says that the unity government, set up in 2008, must immediately declare all schools 'peace zones' and enact legislation that criminalises all education based violence.

This and other recommendations have been drawn from numerous reports by the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), who warned on Wednesday that teachers are once again set to be singled out in politically motivated incidents of violence. PTUZ President Takavafira Zhou told SW Radio Africa that the real problem lies in the unity government's failure make any real changes since 2008.

"The government has not made any attempts to improve the lives of teachers or keep them safe. The government has also failed to reconcile and heal Zimbabwe and there are no attempts to prepare or educate people, particularly on the role of teachers. So obviously in the next elections, teachers will be targeted again," Zhou warned.

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