Fugitive Njube school teacher breaks silence
A TEACHER who allegedly led a strike by students at Njube High School in Bulawayo has broken his silence from Namibia where he is hiding.
Speaking from Namibia after fleeing the country’s law enforcement agents who want him for inciting demonstrations, he said he yearned to return home but could not do so right now.
The former Biology teacher fled Zimbabwe last month after he had led disgruntled students at Njube High School in a march through the streets of Zimbabwe’s second capital city as they registered disquiet over the perilous state of the country’s education sector.
Now ensconced in what he deems to be a safe country, Brian Mutsiba, pictured, recounted how he walked for more than 30km fleeing the country’s feared security personnel.
“I escaped the country after lying low for four days since the police and security agencies had instigated a manhunt for me. I gave the impression that I had headed for Zambia on social circles but moved in the opposite direction and headed for Botswana.
“I walked a total distance of 30km deep into Plumtree before jumping the border then eventually made it to Gaborone. I lay low once again. When security details were close I skipped another border into Namibia and for now I am safe,” he said.
As he fled the authorities who were in hot pursuit, he left behind his wife and three children.
“I am a father of three. My family was left behind in Zimbabwe under the upkeep of relatives. My eldest daughter is a 6th form student at Njube High School and did take part in the demonstration. So she was harassed for a while by the police so as to coerce her into revealing my whereabouts,” he said.
On January 20, Mutsiba led students at Njube in extraordinary protests where they demanded better salaries for their teachers as well as raised concerns with the school fees hike that has resulted in school drop-outs.
Residents of Njube suburb were greeted by the unusual scenes of students from Form 1 to 4 holding a protest over the unavailability of their teachers and the recently hiked school fees.
They marched from the high density suburb to a garage in Entumbane, before they were intercepted by their headmaster who ordered them to go back to school.
The students said they had mounted the protest because they were not happy with the recent school fees increases — which went up from $92 to $492 a term.
During their march, the Njube High learners waved placards in which they asked for help from the representative of the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) in the country.
“Where is Unicef? This is for every Zimbabwean child,” some of their placards read.
Others hoisted the Zimbabwe flag together with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s official portrait — while singing: “We do not like what you are doing”.
At one point, the students knelt down as they sang Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrica (God bless Africa), before shouting the slogan “Amatitsha ngawethu” (Teachers belong to us).
The students claimed that their teachers had deserted classes to harvest amacimbi (mopani worms) on the outskirts of Bulawayo because they could not make ends meet.
“We are protesting because since we opened schools last Tuesday, teachers are not reporting for duty.
“We have not started learning because teachers are not coming to class. They are harvesting amacimbi,” said one Form 3 student.
Hundreds of Bulawayo residents have been flocking to Umguza District on the outskirts of Bulawayo to harvest amacimbi.
Another student said the country’s worsening economic rot was destroying schools and the government needed to act urgently to mitigate the situation.
“We are concerned about what is happening to the education sector. Our teachers are not properly remunerated and are not reporting for duty.
“This will have a bearing on our results when we sit for national examinations,” the student said.
A teacher at the school who refused to be identified applauded the learners for registering their disapproval through a peaceful demonstration.
This comes after the government recently gave public schools the green light to increase their levies and boarding fees.
This was despite its pronouncements that no school would be allowed to hike its fees by more than 20 percent without its approval — in statements that came to be proven as hollow.
“Concerning boarding fees, food fees, those are subject to market forces … Schools have been given guidelines on how to proceed (on this).
“There is a circular that stipulates how parents meet, consider their expenses and agree on a fee they think can feed their children.
“Government does not own grocery shops. So, if 20 percent of the parents meet … and if they agree on what they can pay, who are we to say no?” Acting Primary and Secondary Education minister Amon Murwira said then.
Regarding tuition fees, he warned that public schools that defied the directive not to increase their fees by more than the stipulated amounts would face disciplinary action.
“Provincial education directors, district schools inspectors and heads of public schools should stand guided by the circular which has been dispatched to them,” he said adding that private schools that were charging their fees in foreign currency also risked being deregistered.
Murwira also revealed that the government had little control on private schools that charged exorbitant fees — saying as long as parents agreed on a figure, this would be in order.
“All I said is that it is illegal to charge in foreign currency and the punishment for that is deregistration of the school,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, many parents and their children were facing a double whammy of sky-high school fees and a severe national shortage of affordable boarding places for students starting Form 1 this year.
This threw preparations for the start of the 2020 learning calendar into disarray, particularly as this came as both schools and families were already reeling from the country’s worst economic crisis in a decade.
Authorities paid civil servants their outstanding cost of living allowances (Cola), although they are still facing difficulties in placating the restive government workers who are mulling a national strike.
This comes as Mnangagwa and his misfiring Cabinet are coming under growing pressure from increasingly despondent citizens, as poverty levels, prices and the cost of living in the country keep shooting up — creating social unrest.
For Mutsiba the call was clarion clear, he had to take the fight to the authorities or a whole generation will be condemned to emptiness and nothingness.
“The current situation in terms of observing children’s rights is dire and at most pathetic. If compared to the situation of 2008, the current scenario has escalated to catastrophic levels.
“Due to meagre salaries teachers are currently incapacitated to attend for duty let alone lessons. The situation is further made grave by the mere fact that most government schools increased their fees by between 300-500 percent, putting the reach of education beyond the ordinary parents.
“The situation is worsened by the high costs of uniforms, books and educational accessories. With the paymasters adamant to maintain the status quo, millions of children in Zimbabwean government schools are continually bound to suffer from the pangs of this education genocide.
“The hardest hit are the rural children who are at the end point of the margin and this also correlates with the situation of the rural teachers who are at the apex of incapacitation. At the end of the day, education is near to nonexistent in government schools.
“Slowly but surely this young generation is being academically slaughtered. This comes as no surprise as the children of politicians opt for educational opportunities abroad,” he said.
Now an outcast in his country, the former prison warder is holed in Namibia and living on the benevolence of well-wishers.
“I am not working but have support of the humanitarian community. To be honest, I did not organise the demonstration, I only supported the children in their quest for a reasonable cause, their right to education,” he said.
A wanted man in Zimbabwe Mutsiba says time always comes where the only option that one have is to put up a fight and fight for what is right.
He believes he has a moral obligation to highlight the suffering of teachers and give a voice to children who are usually the silent victims of underfunding of the critical education sector by the central government.
“There is a famous adage that says ‘Life begins where fear ends’. If the cause is worthy, at times we are compelled to make that sacrifice. The fight for freedoms and rights therefore demands some who are willing to defy the odds and make such sacrifices,” he said.
However, he is not yet ready to come back to Zimbabwe and take the fight to the government that stands accused of destroying the country education sector which was once the region’s envy.
“As long as I still fear for my life I do not see myself coming back. The growing concern is that I may first face a court marshal before I appear a civilian court as I have served under the corrections department before I joined the Ministry of Education.
“A court marshal by any standards is ruthless. However I aim to keep talking on the rights of the voiceless, the children,” he said.