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Frustration Fuels Motivation - Education in Zimbabwe Through the Eyes of a Student Activist

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Me and my new friend Dominic
This is the story of Dominic. I met him at the Dete railway station while visiting Hwange National Park to learn about the elephants there. Dominic spent the majority of his 20 years in Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River. He is Tongan and the Tongan tribe lives near the Zambezi and in the neighboring country of Botswana. You can read one of their legends about the river in Kavitha's article.

When Dominic was at school, he studied Integrated Science and Human and Social Biology. However, when he moved to a city high school, he was told he'd have to take Ndebele, Geography, and English. Those are considered basic arts classes. Dominic points out how the lack of funding for his secondary school district prevents students from taking science classes like math, chemistry, and physics that are available in big cities like Bulawayo and Harare. Thus, students don't have the same opportunities. "If they provided us with the same good quality education we could go anywhere in the world. But limiting education is the worst thing you can do to somebody," he states.

"Education is a tool. With education, you can voice out and be heard. Without education, no one can hear you."
While Dominic did very well (he received A's in English Literature and Biology) and now studies Peace and Conflict Studies at the United World College of the Atlantic (UWC) in Wales, he doesn't think that opportunities are readily available to other students who want to advance. He says there is a lot of competition. "We have few universities but high demand," he explains, and says that students from districts like Binga have to work even harder to compete with students like Bekezela, who have a variety of both arts and science classes.

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Here is Dominic working on his education
"Education transforms the country," Dominic believes, and through his opportunities at UWC, he researches causes of the inequality in Zimbabwe, particularly against his people. "Prejudice and Discrimination against Tongan Women in Zimbabwe" is the title of one of his papers. When he's home, he also works with youth in Victoria Falls who struggle against drug addiction and AIDS. "The Tongan culture is disappearing," he explains. "It's a form of cultural subjugation. The government is saying major languages should be Ndebele and Shona. Then the minority languages (like Tonga) won't be represented." 76% of Zimbabweans speak one of the Shona languages, while 18% speak Ndebele and a remaining 6% of Zimbabweans, like the Shangaan and Venda, speak minority languages. Dominic points out that many of the Tongan people have translated surnames in an attempt to "fit in" in the face of vast stereotyping and tribalism. "In Binga, they'll teach Ndebele at a tender age, so children don't get to learn their mother tongue," he continues. He says that because school runs from early in the morning to four in the afternoon, children come home tired and don't continue with the old tradition of sitting around the fireplace learning about their unique culture. He counts his mother as a source of information about the Tongan history and way of life.

Chemistry class without chemicals! Math class with only a few textbooks to share...and less than 10 secondary schools in a district twice the size of Bulawayo! If you think your school is tough, imagine going to school in the Binga school district, where there's a shortage of good books, adequate materials, and qualified teachers. Even more, imagine having to move to another town like Bulawayo just to go to high school.

The Zimbabwean education system, after 1980, has slowly improved. Between 1979 and 1992, for instance, the number of schools increased from 177 to 1517, and school enrollment increased a thousand percent. Ian Smith pointed out the difficulties some children face in attending school when they have other duties to which they must attend. However, with the increase in number of schools, some 93% of Zimbabwean children receive at least some schooling. Classes run from mid-January to mid-April, then a break, then mid-May to early August, then another break, then mid-September until early December. Due to the Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP), which some people have called the "Ever-Struggling African Peoples" policy, school fees were introduced for most schools during the 1990's. However, children in rural primary schools, like those in Binga, still attend school for free.

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Smile for the camera Dominic
Dominic talks about how the Tongan tribe has low representation and little voice in the primarily Shona and Ndebele Zimbabwe. "Binga has just two Members in Parliament, including only one MP who's active in the current constitutional reform," he says. (See Kevin's article.) "But we have the poorest rainfall in the country, we have the highest amount of drought, we have the highest cases of malaria," he told me. "The government says they want to improve everyone's life by providing jobs, but I think they should build a high school!" However, he thinks that Zimbabwean politics, being extremely complicated and interconnected, will take time to fix. "It's one big system, and if one thing in the system is messed up, the whole thing gets messed up." He also claims that "you really can't see what's happening in Zimbabwean politics, you just feel the effects." As a student, an activist and a person proud of his Tongan legacy, Dominic hopes that constructive criticism, as well as the voices of people like him who choose to educate themselves and work towards the betterment of their neighbors, will help to build the Zimbabwe of the future.


Kavitha - Spreading a Bad Seed - The Greed of Agri-business
Kevin - Constitutional Comparisons
Monica - An Interview With Ian Douglas Smith, It's All a Matter of Perspective
Monica - Teen Pen Pals Dream of Hollywood and Big Changes for Zimbabwe
Kavitha - Developing Countries, Big Daddy Corporations and the World Trade Organization

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