Death threats and a deplorable school system

19th November 2010 at 00:00
Zimbabwe Fighting for better education has proved dangerous for a teacher-turned-Movement for Democratic Change MP

A teacher's day in the UK is rarely a life or death affair. While a minority are threatened by violence, they can at least call upon their union or the authorities.

This isn't the case for Harrison Mudzuri, one-time English teacher and union rep, who for the past two years has been an opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MP in crisis-hit Zimbabwe.

He has lost count of the number of times he has been threatened with death for opposing president Robert Mugabe and fighting for better education in a country which has teetered on the edge of economic collapse since controversial farm invasions began 10 years ago.

The 39-year-old MP for the Zaka Central constituency in the heart of Zimbabwe says: "Education is in a deplorable state and has been decomposing in recent years until the elections in 2008. Because the joint government is not working properly, we cannot get enough funds into schools where teachers have classes of 50 or 60 children. They have no books, no pens and classrooms are bad.

"It is no way to teach our children who are our future. We once had the best educational system in Africa - but not now."

Mr Harrison, who taught for 15 years and was a member of the militant Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe, said only 90,000 of the 150,000 teaching posts are currently filled after many quit or fled abroad during the economic crisis and political oppression by Mugabe's Zanu-PF party thugs, police, army and intelligence agencies.

Over recent weeks in nearby Masvingo, teachers complained that they and pupils were forced to attend Zanu-PF rallies by so-called war veterans, while in Rushinga teachers were targetted for contributing to the debate on a new constitution. Zanu-PF youths claimed they would influence pupils in favour of MDC proposals who in turn would influence parents.

Many political analysts believe ageing president Mugabe will call another election next year, which the MDC fears will result in another re-run of 2008 when about 200 of their supporters were killed and hundreds injured in a widespread policy of intimidation.

Despite claims that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the vote, the two parties eventually agreed to a shaky government of national unity.

Mr Harrison, who is married with three children aged 19, 10 and seven, has been arrested 12 times in the past and tortured by secret police but says he will never be quiet.

"I won't move an inch and am prepared to die for what I believe in," he says. "I value peace, democracy, transparency and will not be silenced as long as I am fighting for a better Zimbabwe.

"I am worried about my family but they give me the courage to continue my work. I have people all the time shouting threats like, 'We will kill you,' and 'We will eliminate you like in 2008'. They are war veterans, Zanu-PF activists, militia. They say we are not going to win next year but we will."

Mr Harrison still keeps close contact with schools and teachers who earn as little as #163;135 a month.

"We have to improve working conditions in our schools and invest money in our children," he says. "No one will hinder my fight for better education."

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