Education in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980 and immediately began an educational transformation that resulted in unprecedented coverage for the nation’s young minds.

A residual disenfranchisement of black students remained after nearly a century of colonial rule defined by “white supremacy, racial segregation, institutionalized violence and oppression” of the African majority. A redistribution of social inequality (as manifested in a corrupt education system) was of paramount importance in the first decade of independence.

System at a Glance

Exposure to education in Zimbabwe begins at age 6 in grade one of primary school. By grade three, reading and writing in English accompanies coursework in the mother tongue. Primary education continues through grade seven, when completion is marked with examinations in mathematics, English, science and social studies.

Secondary education is comprised of four “forms,” numbered I through IV. Forms I and II, equivalent to grades eight and nine, develop more involved skills in mathematics, English, history and other practical subjects. Marks earned in Forms I and II determine placement for Forms III and IV (grades 10 and 11,) advanced study years that culminate in subject-specific tests, gatekeepers for university acceptance.

Post-secondary education may be completed at one of Zimbabwe’s seven public universities or four religiously-affiliate universities. Alternatively, the pursuit of a university degree abroad is a viable option for some.

The 1980s: Dramatic Transformation

The face of education in Zimbabwe changed dramatically between 1980 and 1990. Primary schools and secondary schools sprouted up across the nation, increasing in numbers by 42.5 percent and an unfathomable 662 percent, respectively, during that time. On an aggregate level, student enrollment rose by over 200 percent.
Naturally, the demand for teachers rose with the increasing numbers of young minds. By 1990, 15 teaching colleges (10 for primary school teachers and five for secondary school teachers) were established. The Zimbabwe Integrated Teacher Education Course employed innovative approaches to teacher training, which in turn resulted in an overall improvement in the quality of education in Zimbabwe.

Residual Effects of Radical Change

Strides made prior to 1995 established Zimbabwe as a model for participation in public education. To this day, primary school participation hovers around 88% for both males and females. Retention is relatively stable as well; just over 82 percent of students complete their primary school education (this figure drops dramatically as the secondary education arrives; only 48 percent of males and females participate.)

Zimbabwe’s literacy rate, approximately 90.9 percent for youth and 83.6 percent for adults, is highest in sub-Saharan Africa. The nation also sends the fifth-largest number of students to the United States for continued study.

Areas Needing Improvement

Unfortunately, the apartheid era’s widespread inequality resulted in disparities in education quality. “Group A” schools (formerly white) have access to greater resources and better teachers than their “Group B” counterparts, which are typically government-sponsored. Lack of funding, poorer outcomes and lower pay result in perpetual staff shortages and turnover in B-level schools.

Education access in rural and urban areas is similarly unequal. For the approximately 60 percent of Zimbabweans in rural areas, government-funded schools are the only alternative. Higher-fee private schools are out of reach for agricultural families whose livelihoods allow no room for educational spending.

A post-colonial Zimbabwe embraced education as a human right, a premise that is worthy of emulation by developing nations. That said, education in Zimbabwe has room for growth in terms of quality and equity.

– Casey Ernstes

Sources: OSSREA, U.S. Embassy, UNESCO, UNICEF, World Education Forum
Photo: Flickr

Zimbabwe is a low-income country with approximately 72% of the population living below the poverty line. As of 2012, Zimbabwe had a population total of 13.7 million.

Currently, Zimbabwe has been experiencing its worst food crisis in years, leaving 2.2 million people facing hunger in Zimbabwe and in need of food aid. According to Business Day, one of the largest factors in this current food crisis is the amount of farmers who are abandoning production of staple foods like maize, for products with a larger monetary gain, such as tobacco.

Many sources are adamant that Zimbabwe is facing a food crisis, but there are also those who believe that the number of people reportedly going hungry is “exaggerated.” For example Paddington Zhanda, Zimbabwe’s deputy agricultural minister, claims, “There is no crisis. If there [were] a crisis, we would have appealed for help as we have in the past. We are in for one of the best harvests we have had in years.”

Though the harvest has been decent thus far, the UN is asking for donations in order to reach a total of $60 million to help stave off or entirely prevent the increasing hunger in Zimbabwe.


One anonymous source, a senior aid worker, explains that although the rainfall boosted the harvest this year, the many previous years of drought have led the Zimbabwe economy to fall apart, and left the price of farming equipment and food inflated. “[The people of Zimbabwe] are more vulnerable than ever before. With possible good harvests this year, this situation will be a lot better next year, but not now.”

Patrick Chinamasa, Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister, claims that Zimbabwe’s economy will flourish in 2014, leading the rate of growth to increase 3% from the originally predicted 3.4% to 6.4%. His predictions are relying primarily on agriculture and production of food to pull the 2.2 million out of hunger in Zimbabwe, but Chinamasa also mentioned that the government intends to raise diamond sales 5% to help boost the economy and put the Zimbabwe back on solid ground.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: World Bank, Business Day Live
Photo: Bright Hope World

Drought in Zimbabwe is reaching epic proportions as nearly one million people are at risk of food insecurity. According to the 2013 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC,) food insecurity levels will affect roughly 2.2 million Zimbabweans at the peak of hunger season between January and March in the upcoming year. Zimbabwe already suffers from high poverty rates as approximately 72 percent of citizens currently below the poverty line and nearly 14.7 percent of the population is HIV prevalent.

Zimbabwe relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture, which has since plummeted since last season’s drought.  As the need for food increases, maize, a primary source of food in Zimbabwe, continues to rise in price making it more difficult on a population who already lives on less than a $1 a day. Making matters worse, the World Food Programme (WFP) recently announced that their initial plan of providing support for 1.8 million people will be drastically reduced.

“We’d been hoping to have scaled up our seasonal relief operations to reach 1.8 million people in the coming months with distributions of food aid, in some areas, cash transfers. Despite generous contributions from donors such as (United States,) (United Kingdom,) Japan, Australia, ECHO and the central Emergency Relief Fund (UN CERF), it’s now looking like all this will not be possible because of a shortage of funds. In fact, we’ve had to cut rations for one million of our beneficiaries in recent months and there are likely to be deeper cuts as from next month,” said WFP in a statement to the media.

Of the $86 million funding dispersed by the previous listed countries, only half of it has been implemented into relief intervention. “Rising food prices are making matters worse — in some areas, they are as much as double what they were last year,” says WFP communications manager Tomson Phiri.

These rising prices in the market are heavily affecting food security and although WFP is short on funding, they are hoping to raise another $60 million over the next 6 months in an effort to implement relief and recovery operations.

Jeffrey Scott Haley
Feature Writer

Sources: World Food Programme, World Food Programme, Zimeye
Photo: The Telegraph

Zimbabwe announced plans last Friday to import 150,000 tons of corn from South Africa in attempt to stave off the threat of mass starvation as poor crop yields and bad credit plunge the country into its worst food crisis in years.

A UN report found that at least 2.2 million Zimbabweans will require food assistance before the next harvest season to survive. Many people in rural areas are subsisting only on what wild fruit they can find.

Zimbabwe was once known as southern Africa’s breadbasket, but is now suffering low yields of its staple crop due to last year’s droughts, the late arrival and poor distribution of rainfall and an infestation of army worms. Economic collapses and poor planning by the government exacerbated the bad growing season, and Zimbabwe was able to produce only 800,000 of the 2.2 million tons of corn necessary to feed its population.

Scarcity has driven the price of corn up 20 percent since 2012, according to the to US-based Famine Early Warning System (FEWSNET).

“Communities, especially rural ones, are facing a twin evil: food is scarce, and that tends to push prices up,” Innocent Makwiramiti, an economist and former executive officer of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, told reporters.

“The government has no money to import enough grain so that people can buy it at subsidized levels,” Makwiramiti said. “The hungry are therefore forced to buy from private sellers, who charge high prices.”

Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation and resulting economic freefall, which many critics blame on President Robert Mugabe and his chaotic ascension to power, threaten the country’s ability to borrow to feed its citizens.

In the past, Zimbabwe has combated inflated food prices by importing grains on credit from neighboring countries like Zambia, many of whom are no longer willing to gamble that they will be paid back. In October, Zambia reversed its decision to give Zimbabwe 150,000 tons of corn on credit, instead requesting cash up front.

Zimbabwe managed to obtain only 14,000 tons.

Many Zimbabweans are angered by the response from President Mugabe and his ZANU PF party, who have acknowledged the food crisis and promised that “no Zimbabwean will die of hunger” but have yet to reveal any concrete plans to address food scarcity or the underlying economic problems ravaging the country.

In addition to a poor growing year and an economy in free fall, Zimbabwe’s food crisis has roots in Mugabe’s violent redistribution of land in 2000. Many white landowners fled the country as government forces seized their farms.

Instead of turning land over to Zimbabwe’s poor black farmers, as he had promised, Mugabe gifted properties to leaders of his ruling party, whom left much of it unattended and improperly cared for. Ironically, the farming surplus that Zambia has experienced, allowing them to sell corn to Zimbabwe, can be attributed at least in part to white farmers chased out of the country.

It will take time for Zimbabwe’s economy to rebound, but its people are dying now. The 150,000 tons of corn recently granted by South Africa will help some, but without money or credit, Zimbabwe and its citizens will be largely dependent on food aid from international organizations. Now is the time to get involved.

Sarah Morrison

Sources: All Africa, New Zimbabwe, New Zimbabwe, New York Times, World Food Programme
Photo: The Guardian

Zimbabwe human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, has been acquitted on charges of obstructing justice and being unruly to police.

The recipient of several international awards, Mtetwa grew up in Swaziland, the eldest daughter of 50 children. After earning her law degree, she moved to Zimbabwe after it gained its independence in the 1980’s and soon set up her own firm defending victims of the repressive government. She has spent the past three decades defending freedom of speech under President Robert Mugabe, of whom she is a strong critic.

‘Beatrice Mtetwa & the Rule of Law’ is a recent documentary project about Mtetwa’s career-long struggle. Hailed as Africa’s top human rights lawyer, her cause is to uphold the rule of law as the foundation for democracy and economic growth. She names Mugabe a dictator, calling him out for creating self-serving, harmful laws which fly in the face of human rights.

Mugabe’s long presidency has been fraught with criticisms including his violent land redistribution policy, highly questionable elections, and free speech restrictions. Mtetwa’s clients include peace activists and journalists whom she defends on constitutional grounds. Foreign correspondent Andrew Meldrum, for example, was arrested and then deported from Zimbabwe after having been found innocent in the courts. His expulsion, according to Jonathon Moyo, a member of parliament, had to do with the country’s right to stop the media from being “hostile” towards Zimbabwean government. A law enacted by Mugabe, which made insulting the president a crime, was recently declared unconstitutional by Zimbabwe’s highest courts, but the country is still hostile toward free journalism in general. Currently in Zimbabwe, a person can be sentenced to 20 years in prison for publishing a false statement, creating an obviously unfriendly atmosphere for free speech.

It is this type of corruption which Mtetwa has devoted her career to stopping. According to many, it was her influence in this respect which led to her arrest.

Mtetwa was arrested in March of this year during a raid on the offices of foreign Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. The officers were searching for an official from Tsvangirai’s Movement for a Democratic Change. It was alleged that Mtetwa shouted at the officers, saying that their actions were unconstitutional, illegal, and unlawful. It was furthermore said that she insulted the officers by calling them “Mugabe’s dogs.” Her arrest was widely condemned and interpreted as an attempt to intimidate other Zimbabwean lawyers. Mtetwa herself termed it a “set-up.”

On November 25, the courts ruled that Mtetwa’s actions had not interfered with the officers doing their jobs, and she was therefore released. But the problems facing Zimbabwe’s government remain.

– Kathleen Walsh

Sources: BBC 1, 2, Rule of Law, Washington Post, The Guardian, African Spotlight

The loo, can, John, privy, water closet or bathroom – no matter what it is called, the toilet is a universally valued sanitation need.  That said, this year marked the first official celebration of World Toilet Day. While the day has been informally recognized by sanitation advocacy groups for 13 years, the United Nations officially declared November 19 World Toilet Day this year.

“To have it inscribed as a U.N. official day,” says World Toilet Organization founder Jack Sim, “means we now have the … legitimacy to engage at country and local levels to generate awareness down to where it matters most. We’ve finally broken the taboo on sanitation.”

Lack of proper sanitation poses a threat to many developing nations around the world. In fact, more than 2.5 billion people lack proper sanitation, states Devex, and are at an increased risk for waterborne illnesses. Five years ago in Harare, Zimbabwe, more than 400,000 were killed and 100,000 sickened by cholera, states the Huffington Post.

The densely populated city still faces health and sanitation risks today.  A new report titled “Troubled Water: Burst Pipes, Contaminated Wells, and Open Defecation in Zimbabwe’s Capital” captures the dangerous living conditions of many of the nation’s citizens.  The lack of proper filtration, sanitation and clean water violate fundamental human rights, the report claims.

Zimbabwe has not always lacked proper sanitation systems, however.  Until the 1980s the country had a functioning sewage system, but governmental neglect and corruption has allowed the system to deteriorate and cause public hazards.

“The government’s inability to maintain the water system and its practice of disconnecting those unable to pay,” Human Rights Watch Southern Africa director Tiseke Kasambala says,” forces people to drink water from contaminated taps or from unprotected wells.” Sewage lines the streets of many communities where inhabitants also lack clean water for bathing and drinking.

The situation is not much better in Haiti and according to Devex, only one-third of the Caribbean nation has access to toilets. More than 680,00 people have contracted cholera, with nearly 8,400 dying from the disease in the last three years. Researchers, however, are using defecation as an opportunity to develop sustainable energy practices.

Professors from the University of Maryland and Biobolsa of Mexico have designed a technology that utilizes anaerobic digesters to break down organic matter and transform it into methane.  The methane biogas can then be used to generate electricity and heat homes.

The researchers and technicians have high hopes for the project. “We hope this project can be used to bring together these WASH [water, sanitation and hygiene] communities through the sharing of our rigorous evaluation data, survey results and workshop materials,” University of Maryland’s Stephanie Lansing said, “so the sanitation model implemented here in Haiti can be replicated throughout the development community.”

Though improper sanitation and hygiene practices threaten many developing nations, work is underway to flush these public health hazards down the drain and transform them into sustainable development opportunities.

– Mallory Thayer

Sources: Devex: Learning to love the loo, The Huffington Post, Devex: Haiti
Photo: New Times

Zimbabwe has sent foreign businesses packing as Robert Mugabe increases his unstable and illegitimate control over Zimbabwe and its economy.

Foreigners operating businesses were given notice that they risk being arrested if they continued doing business after a deadline to relinquish their businesses to Zimbabweans. Zimbabweans will take control of wholesale and retail establishments from foreign owners, the state-owned  media has reported.

The government had added barber shops, hair dressings, beauty salons, bakeries, employment agencies and grain milling to the list of those who may face prosecution if they fail to obey.

Foreign business has been a threat as of late to economic security of Zimbabwe. There is also an antsy yet still seated Mugabe who sees this as an opportunity to clamp down control by claiming to be removing damaging foreign influences.

Last August the controversial leader of Zimbabwe threatened to expel foreign-owned firms over what he claimed was Western interference in the politics of the country. This of course came one month after Mugabe won elections that both the European Union and the United States refused to recognize as legitimate due to irregularities and fraud.

This particular move by Mugabe seems to be in line with the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act, according to the state-controlled news agencies. The act calls for the protection of reserved sectors of the economy as being agriculture, transportation, estate agencies, tobacco grading and packaging, advertising agencies, milk processing and provision of local arts and crafts.

State-owned papers felt that the Nigerian and Chinese populations who immigrated in recent years were likely to be the biggest casualties as they had set up small shops and businesses in almost every town.

These measures are likely to leave Zimbabwe dependent on imports and fleeing populations if barriers of investment and business continue to target foreign companies in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has one of the most uncompetitive economies and the country needs foreign companies to invest money, innovation, and labor. This move also serves to further isolate an increasingly beleaguered Mugabe on the international stage, with his citizens to pay for that distance.

– Nina Verfaillie
Feature Writer

Sources: Al Jazeera, The Independent
Photo: Neatorama

Zimbabwe Elections

On July 31, 2013, elections in Zimbabwe took place for both the parliament and presidency. The election was the first under the southern African country’s new constitution. The current 89-year-old leader, Robert Mugabe, transformed the country once known as the breadbasket of Africa into an African basket case. He hopes to extend his 33-year-long reign of power, but he has serious competition from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

But Tsvangirai may not be the answer to the country’s problems. He has committed many strategic errors, fracturing the opposition movement in the struggle against his opponent. He is a man who has survived multiple alleged assassination attempts in defense of freedom and democracy, and has suffered jail time and torture. Tsvangirai also understands the country’s need for economic freedom. He is aware that in order for Zimbabwe to prosper, the government needs to restore respect for property rights, shut down inefficient state-run enterprises, and significantly improve the business environment.

Zimbabwe experienced extreme economic hardship between 1998 and 2008. Its economy contracted at an annual rate of -6.09%. However, the countries next door, Botswana and Mozambique, were growing at annual rates of 3.95% and 4.94%, respectively. Zimbabwe’s per capita income fell dramatically from $1,640 to $661 while incomes in the neighboring countries continued to increase. As a result of economic contraction, Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate rose to nearly 94% in 2008.

Though the country rebounded slightly from the low point in 2008, its economy was still 36% smaller in 2012 than it had been in 1998. The UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) – an approximate measure of a standard of living that is calculated on a scale from 0 to 1 – saw Zimbabwe fall from 0.376 in 2000 to 0.345 in 2008. The cholera outbreak that left hundreds dead was merely a confirmation that Zimbabwe was a failed country.

In 2010, Zimbabwe ranked 142nd out of 144 countries surveyed in the Fraser Institute’s Economics Freedom of the World report; this year, it came in 172nd out of 185 countries surveyed in the World Bank’s Doing Business report; and 132nd out of 144 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report.

The underlying cause of the country’s economic turmoil, past and present, is political action. Robert Mugabe became prime minister and then president in 1980. He was a professed communist who was committed to turning Zimbabwe into a one-party Marxist state. After defeating the white-minority rule in the country that was once called Rhodesia, Mugabe saw himself as the supreme leader, and his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), as the only legitimate political authority in the country.

Joshua Nkomo and his African People’s Union party (ZAPU) were Mugabe’s opposition. During the 1983 elections, Mugabe released the Zimbabwean military on Nkomo’s supporters. Over 20,000 people perished in that conflict. Eventually ZAPU was forced to merge with ZANU, and Nkomo became Mugabe’s powerless Vice President.

According to Foreign Policy Magazine, what Zimbabwe desperately needs are structural reforms including tax simplifications, labor and product market deregulation, and privatization of money-losing state-owned enterprises. Above all else, Zimbabweans must find a way to restore the rule of law and respect for property rights. For decades, Zimbabwe’s multiple communist regimes have benefitted from government monopolies, sale of permits and licenses, and outright fraud and theft. And the majority of Zimbabweans have been suffering. Only a clean break from the past will put the country on the right track to a sustained rate of high economic growth.

The election took place on Wednesday and the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission has 5 days to release the results. Already Mugabe’s party is claiming a victory for their side and Tsvangirai’s party is claiming that there has been election fraud.

– Scarlet Shelton

Sources: Sky News, Fraser Institute, Doing Business, World Economic Forum