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Zimbabwe's private schools see red over fees imposition

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By Agencies

GOVERNMENT-ordered fee cuts are bankrupting Zimbabwe private schools, once among the southern Africa’s best, officials at one non-profit institution said today.

Eaglesvale School, which teaches 1,000 students in western Harare, filed for provisional liquidation.

The near 100-year-old school will be forced to close for good unless it can raise £135,000 in the coming weeks, school officials said.

“We are living on a knife edge,” school board chairman Deon Theron said.

Police and education authorities briefly shut down 45 private schools in May, including Eaglesvale, in a dispute over children’s fees.

The Education Ministry alleged the schools, which cater mainly to the nation’s ruling and wealthy elite, raised their fees without government approval, and ordered them to cut back costs.

Private schools argue they were forced to impose the increases to meet escalating costs due to Zimbabwe’s spiralling inflation and soaring land tax, power and water costs.

Zimbabwe is suffering its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, with acute shortages of petrol, food and key imports.

The often violent redistribution of white-owned farms to black Zimbabweans, coupled with erratic rains, has crippled the agriculture-based economy. Inflation is approaching 390%, the highest rate in the world.

Eaglesvale, which began in 1911 as an orphanage for the children of early white settlers, was forced to halve its fees to about £130 a child for a 12-week term, Theron said.

The government suggested the school cut costs by reducing the number of teachers and enlarging the size of its classes, which average 30 pupils, compared to about 60 in state schools.

“That wasn’t really an option. We would need to build bigger classrooms,” Theron said.

Parents also demanded that the school not “drop standards,” he said.

Theron denied government claims that private schools gave preferential treatment to white children. Nearly 80% of Eaglesvale’s pupils are black.

“What is also sad is that we are one of the few privately run schools that take children with learning difficulties,” Theron said.

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