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Zimbabwean Judge:  No Legal Basis for Closing Some Private Schools - 2004-05-07

A Zimbabwean High Court judge has ruled that there is no legal basis for the country's Ministry of Education to close private schools for increasing their fees.

Judge George Chiweshe made the ruling in Bulawayo, Friday afternoon. From that area, 16 Schools had made an urgent application to the High Court to stop the government from interfering in their operations.

The government ordered the schools closed earlier this week and police enforced the order.

The lawyer for the schools, Richard Majwabu-Moyo, said Judge Chiweshe told the government there was no legal basis for closing the schools.

The ruling is the second this week ordering government to allow schools to operate without interference. On Thursday, High Court judge Susan Mavhangira declared the closure of a school in Harare null and void and directed the authorities not to disrupt the running of the school.

The developments are the latest in a saga that started when Minister of Education Aneas Chigwedere ordered 46 private schools not to reopen at the beginning of the second term this week. Mr. Chigwedere charged that the schools had unlawfully increased fees.

Schools in Zimbabwe are not allowed to increase fees without the permission of the ministry, but the schools said that their applications to increase fees almost never receive responses. Inflation in Zimbabwe is about 600 percent a year and school fees go up frequently.

Mr. Chigwedere accused the schools, most of which were all-white before independence, of hiking fees in an effort to exclude black children, but most of the students in the private schools are black, the children of Zimbabwe's professionals. The schools attended by President Robert Mugabe's children were among those closed.

In addition, among the more than 40 schools Mr. Chigwedere declared closed are a junior and a high school owned by former commander of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, General Vitalis Zvinavashe.

The State-owned daily newspaper the Herald reported Friday that 25 of the schools had been permitted to reopen after reaching an agreement with the ministry over the fees issue. The paper also said the heads of some schools were arrested and fined for raising fees without the Education Ministry's approval.