THE decision by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) to pursue the First Family for reportedly commandeering schoolchildren to attend their political events under the banner of the ruling Zanu PF party is a welcome move, and could not have come at a more opportune time than this given the country is inching towards a crucial election.
During this period, President Robert Mugabe, his wife Grace and the divided Zanu PF will coerce people from villagers to schoolchildren. They may use violence to ensure the majority attends their rallies and even abuse school buses to transport activists to their rendezvous for free, as they have done before.
We applaud the ZHRC for checkmating Mugabe, Grace and Zanu PF, as we are aware that for a long time, schoolchildren have been forced to add the numbers at Zanu PF rallies, while at other times, the schools themselves were used as venues for the meetings. This significantly disturbs the flow of the education system, as a lot of time that should be committed to the business of school is used for political drivel.
Schools must be regarded as sacred institutions, and the innocence of schoolchildren respected, when politicians carry out their activities — in particular rallies. We commend the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) for challenging Mugabe and his wife.
The First Family cannot be allowed to continue abusing schools to pursue their narrow political ends. It is not fair to expose young, impressionable minds to the hate and violent speech that often characterise political rallies. It is the government’s constitutional obligation to protect the young and vulnerable children from this kind of abuse. It is insensitive to expose pupils to such rallies when, at the end of the day, they are never going to vote.
It is understandable that Zanu PF, whose support has been increasingly waning because of its regime’s failure to arrest the political, social and economic malaise gripping the country, will use psychological tactics to create the impression that its popularity ratings are still high.
One of the tactics has been to frog-march reluctant people to its rallies and programmes, swell the numbers and deceive people that it is still a political force to reckon with yet, this is now debatable. But using children for such shenanigans is unforgivable.
We urge all teachers’ unions, and even school development committees and parents’ associations to join this campaign by adding their voices against the abuse of schoolchildren and ensure that their children are not exposed or subjected to the hate speech characterising the Zanu PF rallies when they have got nothing whatsoever to do with them.
We urge politicians to stick to stadiums, open grounds and such other public spaces rather than institutions of learning.
Schools and such other institutions must be classified as safe spaces, where children can freely focus on their education without unnecessary exposure to politics before due time.
Section 81 of the Constitution, which provides for the fundamental rights of children and guarantees their protection from being compelled to take part in any political activity, must be enforced at all costs. Mugabe and his Zanu PF party must be subjected to the rule of law.