FOR Bernard Mahutse, the headmaster at Nyangambe Turf Ranch School in Mwenezi, teaching is indeed a calling.
BY TATENDA CHITAGU
Squatting in a resettlement area, in Mwenezi East constituency, there is no phone and radio signal and neither is there a safe source of drinking water. The nearest health centre is 80 km away.
With a grass-thatched rondavel hut as his accommodation, he still finds joy in imparting knowledge to 360 children from the former white commercial cattle ranch, which was invaded by locals at the height of the controversial land reform programme in 2000.
When he wants to make phone calls, he climbs up an anthill to manually search for network connection.
Getting to the nearest shopping centre, Mwenezi Growth Point, some 150 km of dirt road away, he walks for about 10km to the nearest bust stop. And he has to wake up around 3am to catch the only ramshackle bus that plies the area.
This has been going for a long time but he has not lost heart like other teachers who came and abandoned ship immediately after countenancing the inhabitable conditions. He has been at the school for five years and is not thinking of leaving anytime soon. Now he is pushing for the school to get official recognition and — hopefully — the necessary support.
The school comprises of makeshift, half-built thatched structures that are far from an ideal learning centre. There are no benches or tables for learners and teachers.
“A lot of teachers who came here quickly sought transfers or quit altogether. But this is how I have been surviving here for the past five years. It is good you have been in my shoes for just one day and you experienced how I and two other teachers stationed here survive,” Mahutse told NewsDay Weekender on the sidelines of a circumcision graduation ceremony last week.
He said the massive staff turnover has seen the pass rate at the school dropping because the three teachers carry a heavy work load, with a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:120.
“I am the school head, but I also teach. We combine two classes in one structure. Because of the massive staff turnover, we are overwhelmed and this affects the pass rate here.
The pupils are exposed to the vagaries of the weather as you can see by the structures here,” he said, while cautiously navigating his way out of the round thatched hut to avoid an overhang.
He said the school recorded between a 0% to 10% pass rate in the past decade.
Mahutse said the school site was not pegged. As the villagers did not site have offer letters, they could not build permanent structures.
“This school is not pegged by the Lands ministry, so it’s not authorised. It is not developing because we are living in suspense and on borrowed time. Anytime, we can be chucked out. We cannot build permanent structures. The donors we get do not want to assist for fear of sinking their money into a bottomless pit,” he said.
Mahutse appealed to the government to regularise the school so that they can come up with permanent structures so as to attract donors and more teachers and improve the learning conditions for the pupils.
“We appeal to the authorities to do something about this school. We are giving all our effort without corresponding support from the authorities. We do not have furniture, texbooks and chalkboards,” he said.
Chief Chitanga’s representative, Ernest Chitanga, weighed in, saying pupils no longer took schooling seriously because of the bad state of the school.
“Many children here do not put much importance on education because the school in itself looks like a joke. Upon just being able to read and write, around Grade Six or Seven, they become border jumpers to nearby South Africa and no longer pursue their education,” he said.
“Others get married early because there is nothing they can do here. There are no jobs or any other source of income. And the nearest secondary school is about 20 km away, so most do not go to secondary school,” he said.
The area is near the porous Zimbabwe-Mozambique and Zimbabwe-South Africa borders where many young men from the area risk life and limb to illegally crossing the crocodile-infested Limpopo River downsouth, or the landmine-studded illegal crossing points to Mozambique.
Mwenezi district administrator Rosemary Chingwe said the Nyangambe Turf Ranch cannot be pegged because the farm was meant for A2 farmers.
“These villagers are sitting on A2 farms. The population here is so low that it does not meet the criteria for hospitals and schools. This group of people is very isolated. They came in 2000. But to return where they came from is impossible. It’s either they will be resettled again,” Chingwe said.
“We applied for regularisation of their settlement to the lands committee. From 2015, we sent an application for regularisation and we still continue to remind the lands committee. Maybe if other settlers come on board so that the number increases and the school can be pegged and other social amenities established.”
Although Masvingo provincial education director, Zedious Chitiga, could not be reached for comment as he was said to be in a series of meetings, he is on record saying the many satellite schools in the province required multi-sectoral assistance.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) president Obert Masaraure said teachers in rural areas face a litany of challenges compared to their counterparts in the urban areas, hence the need to increase their rural allowances.
“This is just a tip of the iceberg. Our members in far-flung, middle-of-nowhere areas suffer a lot all in the name of the love for the profession. That is why we have been calling for an increase in rural allowances for our members. Teachers’ salaries are paltry and the current harsh economic climate will further erode their earnings,” he said.
“Some teachers in urban areas have advantages like allowances from the schools and they engage in holiday lessons to boost their monthly salaries, something which is alien to the rural teachers. We call upon the new administration to look into the working conditions of rural teachers,” Masaraure said.
He said apart from the harsh living conditions, rural teachers were always exposed to Zanu PF abuse during election time as they were forced to fundraise for rallies or were frogmarched to such events against their will.
“The union has boldly stood up against the culture of abusing teachers, learners and school property in pursuit of private political interests. We launched the safe schools campaign which saw us getting a High Court order that outlawed forcing rural teachers and school pupils to rallies, as well as the use of school property or disruption of lessons by politicians at rallies,” Masaraure said.
He said the problem is not only about rural teachers, but rural pupils as well, who are disenfrenchised from the start than their urban counterparts who get a competitive advantage as their schools have electricity, computers and are well equipped and well-staffed.
Mahutse, however, said he was proud of his job in which he said he found joy and he was just blooming where he was planted.