Minister repeats Mnangagwa’s 2023 free education promise; teachers group says ‘we demand it now’

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By Lisa Nyanhongo

SOCIAL welfare minister Paul Mavima, has repeated a “free education for all next year” promise first made by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in 2018 in reference to 2019 but is yet to be implemented.

The pledge, which government is yet to honour in four years, has in the past been trolled by parents, teachers unions and the opposition.

Mnangagwa repeated it at the Independence celebrations in Bulawayo on April 18, almost four years after he made it on December 22, 2018.

Speaking at this year’s World Autism Day commemorations in Harare, Mavima promised free education to parents of children living with autism in attendance.

“Section 3.9 of the national disability policy is dedicated to inclusive education, with a provision which clearly states that persons with disabilities must be exempted from paying fees at public learning institutions,  thus promoting their right to education, ultimately increasing their opportunities to enter the formal labour market as well as to establish different livelihoods,” said Mavima.

“The national education act, which we amended about two years ago, also emphasises the right to education of people with disabilities, and also states that the government should provide assistance in every manner possible to make sure they enjoy that right.

“There is confluence between that Act and the national disability policy on that matter. We are in the process of finalising the amendment bill, which will again reinforce the rights of persons with disabilities, not just in education, but in health, employment and social amenities that are inclusive in nature.”

Mavima said government had renegaded on its promise because

“Even though we had legislated for state funded basic education, we had not been able to implement that provision within our act because of the minimal resources that were allocated to education,” he said.

” … but I am glad to announce that now the President has committed that, starting in 2023, there is going to be free primary education, so all those who are going to go into public schools will not be required to pay basic tuition fees, and the state will continue to support those who are vulnerable with things like uniforms, examinations fees and stationery.”

Finance minister Mthuli Ncube last year told CNN’s Richard Quest they were already paying for poor students.

However, Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) president, Obert Masaraure said Mnangagwa’s government should be ashamed of its failure to adhere to the Education Act and his promises.

“Free education should no longer be promised because the constitution is clear about what government should do. It is an obligation it has shamefully negated over years,” said Masaraure.

“We are not so patient as to have to wait up till 2023 for free education, we demand it now, especially considering the levels of poverty in Zimbabwe; people can no longer afford to pay fees.

“Such utterances are disappointing, as this is an issue which politicians cannot use to campaign. They should dump their neo-liberal policies of cutting funding to such important sectors, and not continue politicking.”