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‘No rallies at schools’

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Political parties will be banned from holding rallies and setting up “bases” at schools in the run-up to the forthcoming elections, the Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, David Coltart, has said.

Coltart warned school heads and teachers from forcing schoolchildren to attend political rallies against their parents’ wishes.

“I do not want any political party of any persuasion to use schools for political rallies. I will stick to enforce the ban in any run-up to any future election,” he adeclared.

He said every parent had a right to allow their children to attend a political rally, but no child could be forced to a rally against the wishes of their parents.

“Last year, we issued a policy directive that schools should not be used for political gatherings. We are in the process of revising legislation to reinforce that policy directive. Schools should be used for educational purposes only and not partisan political activity,” he said.

Coltart was speaking on Wednesday at an Independent Dialogue hosted by the Zimbabwe Independent, under the topic: “The Status of Education in Zimbabwe”.

In the 2008 elections, Zanu PF reportedly used schools in rural areas as “bases” where villagers were frog-marched to attend rallies and “political education” campaigns.

During these campaign rallies, schools have reportedly been forced to close, and children made to attend the rallies.

“I work closely with teachers’ unions and they have brought to my attention cases where teachers have been victimised. A group of teachers in Chiweshe were badly tortured in the run-up to the 2008 elections. When they returned last year, they were threatened again. In Rushinga, six teachers were intimidated. We looked into that matter as well,” Coltart said.

“I have tried to respond urgently to these legitimate cries for help.” Coltart said he had even spoken against this practice at Cabinet level, and about the need to “respect teachers”. That respect, he added, should come from all political parties.

The minister said violence in schools was detrimental to education in the country.

“What happens is that when qualified teachers are intimidated, they leave and then they are replaced by unqualified teachers. That is one of the reasons why we have seen some schools having very poor results,” he said.

“I have spoken to Zanu PF officials before and told them that if they have the education of their children at heart, they should ensure that qualified teachers stay.”

Teachers have borne the brunt of political violence as they are always accused of backing opposition parties and of influencing communities they work within to back opposition politicians.

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