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Zimbabwe Police Order Some Private Schools Not to Reopen - 2004-05-03

Zimbabwe police have told a number of private schools not to reopen Tuesday after Easter holidays. The private schools are accused of hiking fees without prior government permission.

A principal of a leading private high school near Harare says he was visited by police and told to keep his doors shut at the start of the second term, or semester.

Principals of at least six schools in country's second city, Bulawayo, say they were consulting with lawyers on the same issue.

School fees at both government and private schools have gone up by large amounts, and principals at some government schools have already been dismissed for increasing fees.

Most private schools have increased fees by up to 75 percent since January. There are 38 private schools in Zimbabwe, and all but one or two are run as not-for-profit trusts.

The private schools have about 20,000 students, most of them the children of professionals, the middle class, and the political elite, mostly from the ruling ZANU PF Party. Among them are President Robert Mugabe's three children.

One school principal, speaking on condition that neither he nor his school was identified, says most school governing bodies regularly apply to the Department of Education to increase fees. He says they seldom if ever receive replies. This principal says that if the police continue to order that schools be kept shut, then private schools would go to the courts seeking relief.

Another school principal says he has already had to go to his local police station where he has been warned he would be charged.

A third principal, outside of Harare, said he believed the government's crackdown was a political gimmick before parliamentary elections scheduled for early next year.

He said there was no alternative to increasing fees. He said staff salaries consumed 70 percent of budgets and that retaining qualified staff was the biggest challenge facing private schools.

The Department of Education had no officials available for comment.