Exiled Brian Mutsiba, a teacher who allegedly led an uprising by students at Njube High School in Bulawayo has assured the nation that he is safe in Namibia.
The former Biology teacher who fled the country last month to Namibia after being hunted by the law enforcement agents who want him for inciting demonstrations, said he wanted to come home but could not due to fear.
Mutsiba had led a march by disgruntled students at Njube High School through the streets of Bulawayo as they protested against the perilous state of the country’s education sector.
Speaking from exile, Mustiba recounted how he walked for more than 30km fleeing the country’s feared security personnel.
Mustiba, the father of three left children in the custody of relatives.
“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.
“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,” Mutsiba said.
On January 20, 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 which had resulted in school dropouts.
The students 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 were not happy with the recent school fees increases – which went up from $92 to $492 a term.
During their march, they also called for United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) support for the school.
“Where is Unicef? This is for every Zimbabwean child,” some of their placards read.
They hoisted the Zimbabwe flag together with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s official portrait – while singing: “We do not like what you are doing.”
The students at one point knelt down as they sang Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrica (God bless Africa), before shouting the slogan “Amatitsha ngawethu” (Teachers belong to us).
They wanted their teachers back.
“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.
One of the students urged government to intervene on the deteriorating education sector.
“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.
Mustiba said government was slowly destroying the education sector with incapacitated teachers, especially from the rural areas.
“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.
“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.
Mutsiba believed it was his moral obligation to advocate for justice, especially on the part of the children.
He is not ready to come back without safety guarantee.
“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.
“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.