THE Anglican Diocese of Manicaland is facing stiff resistance from stakeholders over plans to privatise and monetise access to its best performing mission schools in the province.
St Faith’s, St David’s Bonda, St Augustine’s High and St Anne’s Goto are among high schools which the diocese intends to privatise next year.
The church’s leadership on Monday started consultative meetings with the local community leadership, community members, teachers and non-teaching staff over the move.
They started off with St Faith’s High in Rusape, with officials from the Primary and Secondary Education Ministry as the secretariat.
At St Faith’s Mission, the atmosphere during the meeting was tense, full of heated debate and finger-pointing.
The community objected to vote over the issue, arguing that it did not know how the votes would be used to determine the way forward.
Bishop Ruwona told the meeting that they wanted to privatise the school because the Government was not adequately remunerating teachers and wanted to improve their welfare by paying them about US$500.
He said they also wanted to provide scholarships to the less-privileged as well as give locals a quota of available vacancies.
He said two mission schools would be built to replace each privatised school.
However, this was vehemently rejected, with stakeholders accusing the church of reaping where it did not sow as they toiled to build the mission schools without any help from the diocese.
They demanded to know where the church would get the money to pay the promised salaries when they were struggling to do so at St Cathrine’s High — the diocese’s first private school in Rusape, which has over the years failed to take off as expected despite multiple fundraising activities and exorbitant levies paid by pupils.
Mrs Gladys Mukaronda said the move had negative implications on the less-privileged who would not be able to enrol their children at the schools.
She said this would reinforce social exclusion as choice will only reside with the relatively affluent members of the society.
She argued that the privatisation initiative was being used as a proxy for self-aggrandisement and profiteering by a powerful clique in the church.
“What you want to do is akin to putting poison in a community well because it entrenches economic divisions, deepens discrimination and institutionalises class inequalities. Private schools charge exorbitant fees that isolate children, especially those from poor families, from school.
‘‘This is being undertaken without adequate consideration of issues of equitable access, affordability, quality and effects on public service provision for the poor. You have an option to build new private schools, so leave the existing mission schools alone. Ironically, in your home area (Bishop Ruwona) there is need for a new school. Why not build one there and leave St Faith’s alone?” charged Mrs Mukaronda.
Mr Charles Musembwa said teachers and ancillary staff voted against the privatisation of the school.
“The meeting ended abruptly with a harsh exchange of words. The teaching and non-teaching staff voted. Nine voted for the privatisation of St Faith’s High, while 41 voted against,” he said.
A letter from the Zanu PF Makoni District Coordinating Committee (DCC), warning the church against the privatisation process was also read during the meeting.
“Zanu PF is against your intention to convert St Faith’s High School into a private school. We also received similar objections from community members who said they contributed in the construction of the school. If the school is to become a private school, then it means the majority of the community families will no longer afford to enroll their children there,” reads part of the letter signed by Makoni DCC chairman, Cde Albert Nyakuedzwa.
Retired Colonel Topira Mutasa charged: “You are only concerned about profiteering, and it is highly immoral for you to prioritise making money at the expense of the people. Do not touch what is not yours (mission), otherwise we will boot you out of the church.”
Diocese spokesperson and registrar, Mr Ashel Mutungura said the privatisation process was continuing after successfully conducting another meeting at St David’s Bonda Girl’s High on Tuesday.
“These are consultative meetings for people to raise their concerns. At St Faith’s High, we had a meeting with the local leadership that did not even understand why we were there. They refused to vote, threatening to approach the highest office over the matter. These are people who do not understand how schools work and there were drunken elements, some of whom were bussed from Rusape. They are not part and parcel of the local community. When we were about to conduct elections, they disappeared with the voters’ roll.
“The local community is saying they must determine what happens to St Faith’s and parents with kids at the school should not be part of the process, which shows lack of understanding of how schools operate. They did not understand that this is a consultation for introducing a new model of operation and in terms of substance, there was nothing, absolutely nothing that was material for the decision-making that we want to do,” said Mr Mutungura.
“We wanted to hear what people think, their concerns and how are we able to address them. Remember, this is a private institution, if one decides to walkout, what do we do? We do not beg them. Those who want to be with us will come and we will continue. We are proceeding with the process,” he said.
However, a free-for-all situation obtained at St Augustine’s Mission on Wednesday as scores of agitated parents and members of the community demonstrated against the privatisation of the mission.
The placards waving demonstrators vowed to resist the privatisation of St Augustine’s Mission.
Some of the placards read: ‘No Private School’, ‘Community Is The People’ and ‘Vote for Government School’.
Under the privatisation plan parents will pay US$500 for Form Ones and US$900 for Form Fives to the Responsible Authority as Mission Fund, and then pay Government authorised fees to the school.
The mission schools are registered as Trust Schools, with the church as the Responsible Authority.