The Zimbabwe High Court has ruled that private schools can increase school fees for 2005 without seeking the permission of the education ministry.

The ruling brings to an end a saga that began last year when the education ministry stopped private schools from opening, saying the fees the schools were charging were too high.

The ministry accused the schools of hiking their fees with the intention of pricing them beyond the reach of blacks. The schools rejected the charge saying the majority of their pupils are black. They also said the fees they charged were in agreement with the parents.

The schools only re-opened after agreeing to the fees fixed by the education ministry. The ministry, however, allowed the schools to ask for donations from parents. Most of the parents paid the donations and this kept the schools from closing.

The schools said they had to increase fees to maintain standards in the face of the country's high inflation rate.

Brendan Tiernan, the headmaster of one of Zimbabwe's oldest high schools, the Catholic-run St. George's College, described the court's ruling as very positive.

He said what he called the education minister's meddling had caused some parents to emigrate, while some are now sending their children to schools abroad. He said the uncertainty of 2004 also led some teachers to look for jobs abroad.

Most of Zimbabwe's elite, including government ministers, prefer sending their children to the private schools instead of the poorly funded state schools.