28 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Coltart Bars Teachers From Referendum

EDUCATION, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister David Coltart has barred teachers from participating as polling officers in the constitutional referendum slated for March 16, saying their involvement would disrupt learning. This comes amid reports that the shortage of copies of the draft Constitution has affected awareness campaigns being carried out in various parts of the country.

Teachers constitute the bulk of civil servants and have over the years been used as polling officers during elections.

"Schools will be used as polling venues, but not all of them.

"As a ministry, we are concerned about the disruption of the learning process and we want to minimise the effects.

"My view is that teachers should not be used as polling agents. This is meant to ensure that the learning process is not disrupted. We held a meeting yesterday (Tuesday) with officials from my ministry where we discussed that issue."

Minister Coltart said his ministry would present its request to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to have a common understanding on the issue.

He said his ministry was concerned that if teachers were to take part in the plebiscite, a lot of learning time would be lost as they would be required to undergo training well before the actual voting day.

"Our officers are looking into the issue and we feel that if ZEC insists, it would be better to release untrained teachers.

"We would ask them to look for manpower from other Government departments because we do not want the children to be affected by this," said Minister Coltart.

However, there are reports that some teachers have already been enlisted to be polling officers.

Meanwhile, Copac outreach programmes to raise awareness on the provisions of the draft constitution continue to roll on across the country's provinces.

The meetings started on Monday and are set to continue up to next week as the Government seeks to ensure that members of the public familiarise themselves with the document ahead of the vote.

Political parties in the inclusive Government, Zanu-PF and the two MDC formations have already endorsed the draft and are on a joint crusade, urging their supporters to vote "Yes".

Members of the civic society and smaller political parties have also commended the draft, although they expressed reservations on some of the provisions.

Yesterday, the Copac leadership admitted that there was high demand for copies of the draft Constitution which were in short supply.

"It is something that we are aware of and we are trying our best to print more copies.

"The problem, as you might be aware, is of resources but everything is being done to ensure that we increase the copies of the draft," Copac co-chairperson Mr Douglas Mwonzora said.

His counterpart, Cde Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana also confirmed that demand for the copies outstripped supply.

"As we have said before that the issue of resources has made it difficult to print copies to satisfy demand, but we are trying our best to ensure people get information on the Constitution," he said.

Cde Mangwana said Copac was also running publicity campaigns on Star FM where they were explaining to listeners the contents of the draft Constitution.

Copac printed 90 000 copies of the draft, with 70 000 being in English while 20 000 are in local languages.

The breakdown is 10 000 are in Shona, 6 000 Ndebele, 600 each for Venda, Shangaan, Tonga, Kalanga and Nambya, 400 each for Chewa and Sotho and 200 for Xhosa.

Another 500 copies were also translated to Braille.

Copac also printed 200 000 copies of the abridged version of the draft.

Public meetings continued to be held countrywide with the Copac leadership expressing satisfaction with the progress so far.

Copac is also using the campaigns to advocate for a "Yes" vote.

The referendum will be held on March 16 after which dates for harmonised elections will be announced.

So far, there haven't been cases where people were attacked during the outreach programmes.

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