Zimbabwe: Non-Missionary Private Schools Hardly Serve the Needs of Black Children


I have been reluctantly following the outcry after deputy head Neal Hovelmeier at private school St John's College decided to reveal his homosexuality during assembly.

Reluctant is a key word for me here because I know all too well that if you want to open a can of worms, discuss politics, religion and sexual orientation.

Freedom of speech, public platforms and moral responsibility

There is an important difference between free expression, which is a basic right for everyone, and regular access to public platforms, which is a special right or privilege.

This special right or privilege goes with certain jobs and professions, and cannot be made universal.

In Zimbabwe, we have been lucky thus far, for we have been generally allowed free expression in all facets of our lives.

School assembly, as a limited public platform with a vulnerable and captive audience, has always been understood to be a platform where the onus to exercise moral responsibility lies with the head of the school, staff and prefects.

Exercising special rights or privileges, particularly at school settings, therefore, requires utmost good faith and the highest moral responsibility.

When parents drop off their children at school every morning, it is with the understanding that besides the academic and extra-curricular activities they attend school for, everything else they learn within the precincts of the school is more or less within an implied and agreed to value system.

Why is school assembly important?

Learners need order and structure.

School assembly is an important formal start to the school day (although most schools no longer have assembly every day), a way of stakeholder engagement (the stakeholders being the learners) and acknowledgement of key milestones in the school.

Assembly is a forum where the successful learners in all spheres of school life including competitions are honoured, and the not so successful encouraged to try again. Assembly is also used as a meeting place where notices are passed and school values reinforced.

What educational point was Hovelmeier trying to put across?

Hovelmeier was ill-advised, we are now told, to pre-empt a newspaper story that would have outed him.

His use of a sacred and privileged platform to announce his homosexuality was not acting in good faith and, furthermore, he was not exercising the moral responsibility expected of him.

What did he want young impressionable boys from ages 12 years and above to do with that kind of disclosure?

Was he trying to offer himself as a role model to gay boys at the school by announcing his sexuality?

Was Hovelmeier giving the boys carte blanche to explore their sexuality and advising them that it is okay to be gay in a country where it is illegal to be gay?

I am not a lawmaker in Zimbabwe and do not know what informs the law that says it is illegal to be gay in the country.

What I know for sure is that Zimbabwe is a country with a myriad of catastrophic problems, such as poverty, disease and inequality and, therefore, sexual orientation -- a private matter -- ought to stay private.

I also know that because Zimbabwe is conservative and predominantly a Christian country, the illegality of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has anchored many in the homophobic realm.

I do not consider myself homophobic.

I consider myself practical and realistic.

As a black woman who has suffered and continues to suffer all societies' ills like patriarchy, misogyny, hate speech from likely and unlikely quarters, racism in all spheres of life including once upon a time at a girls' private school in the north-east of Harare when I was a student there, I know all too well the consequences of unfair judgement.

The point is, with all the layers of discrimination we face as black people every day, adding another layer of discrimination by divulging sexual orientation that is not heterosexual is suicidal in Zimbabwe.

Personally, it is a challenge and a burden I am unwilling to publicly carry with any of my children.

If it is any other person's child, I will definitely be accommodating because the pain of judgment and exclusion will not be in my household.

Hovelmeier was certainly utilising his white privilege in a world where black privilege is non-existent.

A black and gay deputy head/teacher would have known to keep their mouth shut in the face of a newspaper threatening to out him. Perhaps, the response of the school would probably have been somewhat different.

Why does the LGBT community feel the need to "come out" or even hide?

Hovelmeier was hiding.

Had it not been threats by a newspaper to out him, he would probably not have disclosed his sexual orientation.

So his disclosure was insincere and not meant to create a softer landing for current gays boys at the school.

That said, I have often wondered why the LGBT community feels the need to "come out".

Coming out from what?

Heterosexuals do not "come out", so where does this need to share private matters come from?

I do understand that some people do not want to acknowledge the very existence of LGBT people, believing it is a lifestyle choice, but often, it does masquerade as attention seeking behavior and jaundiced lifestyle choices.

That is why parents run amok when a Deputy Head misuses a privileged platform like assembly to "come out".

Perhaps Zimbabwe needs to open up debate on sexual orientation

The existence of the LGBT community is illegal in Zimbabwe. Perhaps the time is now, for Zimbabweans to open up debate on sexual orientation.

There are many men in Zimbabwe hiding in marriages.

The loser is the women they marry.

They marry women, have children to create a veneer of a perfect life and thereafter never touch the woman again.

Others continue to be intimate with their wives whilst sleeping with men at the side.

Again the unsuspecting wife is the survivor of this double dipping risking all kinds of sexually transmitted diseases.

Stories are abound shared first hand by divorce lawyers about the nature of the intimacy and the damage inflicted on women's bodies.

Significant divorces throughout the country are as a result of gay men hiding in marriages and causing untold harm to women's bodies.

For this particular reason, I believe that the LGBT community's right to self-determination must be enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

Non-missionary private schools hardly serve the needs of the black children

Black people need to be more organised and set up private schools to the standard of or better than the likes of St John's College and others.

Personally, I have never felt that non-missionary private schools serve the needs of the black child.

I took out my son, now 26 from St John prep school after a neurotic teacher told us that almost every child in class, that time Grade 2 had a learning disability.

We used to congregate at her house after hours for extra lessons.

A family I know ended up taking their son to St Giles until they realised that their son was not mentally disabled.

Personally, the year plus I spent at a girls' private school north east of Harare was mostly dreadful.

My eldest daughter who also attended the same school now tells of her ordeal and distress during the 4 years she spent there up to A' Level.

My second daughter is the only one who had a rewarding experience at that same school.

Perhaps it is the different lenses with which we view the world.

Thankfully after Junior school at the same school, my last daughter opted to study out of the country.

Success indicators of my counterparts at this girls' school and the boys' schools that we associated with like St Georges' and others are very low for black children.

If you look at the CEO's of parastatals and Zimbabwe Stock Exchange listed companies, none of them are from non-missionary private schools.

The one thing many come out with from these schools is sound bites and fancy accents.

What is so bizarre nowadays is, private school-educated children are systematically being discriminated against by many human resource departments of organisations in Zimbabwe, yet the very same discriminators are queuing up to have their children attend these private schools.

Talk about having double standards.

Rather that force themselves at private schools which might not necessarily share the same values with them, perhaps black parents ought to be organising themselves to set up schools that reflect their conservative posture, wishes and aspirations.

I have a friend whose child is currently in drug rehabilitation where she pays $1 000 per month.

Although his problem manifested as a drug issue, recently there was a revelation.

He is actually addicted to porn.

Because he feels guilty about his porn addiction, he then tries to stunt his thoughts by taking drugs.

Where did he get the addiction to porn?

At a very expensive private boys' high school when he was just 15 years old!

The example above is anecdotal and I am sure many young people who have since graduated from Zimbabwe's local private schools after my generation have soared.

But on a per capita basis as compared to either the output from public schools or the missionary schools, private schools still have a lot more to do to in order to churn out the kind of black graduates enabled to take over Zimbabwe.

See What Everyone is Watching

More From: Zimbabwe Standard

Don't Miss

AllAfrica publishes around 700 reports a day from more than 140 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.