HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Miriam Makoromu, 17, wakes up before dawn every weekday. She takes a shower and puts her books and pencils in her backpack. Then, she straps on her shoes for the long walk to school.
She leaves her home in Hopley Farm, an overcrowded, informal settlement in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, by 5:40 a.m. to be on time for her first class, which starts at 7 a.m. at a government-owned school in Glen Norah, a neighboring suburb.
“It pains me to walk to and from school,” she says. “I feel sleepy when I get to school.”
Linda Mujuru, GPJ Zimbabwe
Makoromu walks 4 miles each way to get to school five days a week. She says she gets home by about 6:30 each evening.
She takes the long journey every day because schools in Hopley Farm, which range from primary to vocational, are not recognized by the government and are therefore not allowed to administer exams. The makeshift structures lack adequate space to accommodate the number of students who live in the settlement. Students like Makoromu, who wish to pursue a formalized education and to take final examinations that qualify them for college, must endure the long walk to schools elsewhere.
“I wish the government would construct schools here,” Miriam says.
Political Revolution in Zimbabwe
After 37 years of controversial rule, Robert Mugabe resigned as president of Zimbabwe on Nov. 21.
Mugabe, 93, was the only leader Zimbabwe has known since the country gained independence in 1980. Once considered a hero of his country’s independence movement, he became an all-powerful ruler who urged his supporters to use violence to implement his policies. Zimbabwe’s economy disintegrated under Mugabe’s rule, and the nation has suffered under strict global sanctions for decades.
Mugabe was placed under house arrest by Zimbabwe’s military after a Nov. 14 takeover. Days later, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF political party fired him as party leader on Nov. 19. That day, thousands of people marched peacefully in Harare to celebrate Mugabe’s dismissal. The party gave him a deadline of midday on Nov. 20 to resign as president, which he did not do.
Zimbabwe’s parliament began the impeachment process on Nov. 21, during which they received and read a letter of resignation from Mugabe. Celebrations erupted in the capital and throughout the country. Recently fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa will be sworn in as president in the coming days, and he is expected to serve the remainder of Mugabe’s last term. General elections are tentatively scheduled for late 2018.
In the weeks and months to come, Global Press Journal will continue to provide holistic coverage of the changing nation.
Long walks to school are a major factor in high dropout rates across Zimbabwe. According to a Health and Demographics survey conducted in 2006, the most recent statistics available, 78 percent of students drop out in grade 6.
Lazarus Dokora, minister of primary and secondary education, recently suggested in a speech in Parliament that satellite schools, like the one in Hopley Farm, should be formally established and registered so that they can begin administering final exams. But for a school to be registered, regulations state it must have rooms where examination papers can be kept as well as housing facilities for staff members – requirements out of reach for most of the country’s informal satellite schools.
Esnat Mataka, a resident of Hopley Farm and a mother of three school-age children, says she made the difficult decision to have her kids walk the long distance to a government school because the satellite school didn’t have desks, chairs or books.
“The schools that are here are very poor; they have no resources,” she says. “My children are not going to school here because the schools here are not adequate. But the government schools are far for my children to walk.”
While some parents have opted to send their children to private schools that are closer, that option remains out of reach for most people in Hopley Farm, given the economic crisis that has hit lower- and middle-class Zimbabweans hard. Unemployment rates are difficult to estimate, with government sources putting the figure at 11 percent, and independent evaluators suggesting it is as high as 95 percent.
But even for the select few who can afford it, private schools do not solve all the problems Private schools, which also may be unregistered, are not allowed to administer exams. Students in private schools must also walk to government schools to take exams.
Linda Mujuru, GPJ Zimbabwe
Never Khanye, chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Education, Sport, Art and Culture, says the poor economic conditions have affected the growth of Zimbabwe’s education sector.
“There are specific areas that are experiencing these problems,” he says. “It is government policy to have schools within every 10 to 15 kilometers, but due to limited resources and the side effects of the economy, the government is trying to have schools set up in more areas.”
Linda Mujuru, GPJ Zimbabwe
A 2013 audit by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education revealed that the country had a deficit of 2,056 schools. In 2015, Zimbabwe received a $20 million grant from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries Fund, to construct schools in target areas. Initial estimates suggested that 100 schools would be built by 2018, but there has been no updated audit to confirm progress over the last two years.
Obert Masaraure, national president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, says he hopes more schools are built, and soon. He says the long walks are taking a toll on teachers too.
“Teachers also have to walk for these long distances, and this has disadvantaged both learners and teachers,” he says.
Linda Mujuru, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona.