By Blessing Rwizi
A MUTARE primary school was this week reduced to a shell after the Messenger of Court swooped on it and attached almost all the furniture over a $26 000 debt.
Dzobo Primary School, which is about 40km along the Mutare-Chimanimani Highway and has an enrolment of 580 pupils, so far has 195 tables, 136 benches, 148 chairs, six book shelves, one safe, a file cabinet and a computer set attached by the Messenger of Court.
Six classrooms, a library room and the headmaster’s office were left empty, with the Messenger of Court threatening to remove roofing sheets of the classrooms if the school fails to settle the outstanding amount within a given period of time.
The school was dragged to court by three Early Childhood Development teachers who were fired from work on January 17, 2014.
Miriam Machakaire of Suite 7, 2nd Floor, Belmont Building in Mutare, Judith Jameya and Pena Dzobo, both of Dzobo Village under Headman Nyamana approached Mutare Civil Courts in May 2014 seeking recourse after failing to get their terminal benefits.
Jameya and Dzobo served as child minders at the school for 33 years, while Machakaire served for eight years. The three only realised that they were being grossly underpaid when their contracts were terminated without any benefits.
The trio was being paid $10 monthly wages in 2009, $20 in 2010 and $30 in 2011. The amounts increased to $40 and $50 in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively.
They took their case to court and it was presided over by Mrs Anniah Ndiraya, while the school was being represented by Mr Mbiza Tapera, the SDA chairperson, Mr Washington Chinyenya the secretary and Mr Richard Mawundo.
They argued that the three did not have contracts as they were hand-picked by the village head to prepare the children’s food.
“The three were advised in 2009 that Government was training teachers to replace them in 2014,” said Mr Tapera.
However, they failed to justify their claim that Machakaire, Jameya and Dzobo were just voluntary workers as per the provisions of the Labour Act, Section 12 (2) (d).
The court ruled that the school should pay the trio their benefits amounting to $26 000, but the SDA chose to thumb their noses at the court order. An arbitrary award was therefore issued by Mrs Ndiraya on July 1, 2015.
Things came to a boil last Friday when ECD, Grade One and Two pupils were left to conduct their lessons sitting on the floor as the Messenger of Court attached desks and benches.
The situation was further worsened on Tuesday as the Messenger of Court proceeded to Grade Three and Four blocks, the library and the headmaster’s office.
All the movable furniture in the rooms was attached, leaving books and school records in the office scattered all over the floor.
A general meeting was hastily convened on Tuesday between the SDA and the parents in a bid to find a way forward. The meeting degenerated into a free for all situation, with parents pointing accusing fingers at the headmaster, Mr Richard Mawundo.
The parents also accused the headmaster of misappropriating school funds, an allegation he vehemently denied. The parents cited a report compiled following an audit by the parent Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in 2012 which revealed that $918 was missing from the school coffers.
They also argued that no development had taken place at the school after Mr Mawundo’s assumption of office.
“We have tolerated your stay here for a long time. You are the cause of problems affecting this school as you are the one who acted arbitrarily to fire the three employees. We cannot afford to lose all our property. Enough is enough, “said Mr Sundirayi Musapatika as he charged at Mr Mawundo.
Mr Mawundo hit back and said: “You are wasting your time shouting at me because I have already submitted my transfer letter to the DEO. I am leaving this place very soon, but none of you can ever push me out of this school except the ministry.
“You should not expect me to operate or behave in the same way with other headmasters who were here before me because we are different people.”
Asked to give a detailed breakdown of how the school had used the funds, Mr Mawundo: said: I have no time for all that right now. The SDA should be held accountable because right I have a lot on my mind on how to solve this problem before us.
“I did not fire the three former employees. Stop accusing me of converting school funds into my personal use. I don’t like it and if something happens to me as a result of your threats, I will hit back.”
One of the parents, Mr Shepard Muhwezva, charged: “Our children are no longer coming to school because there is no furniture, therefore all teachers should leave. It is better for us to use these classrooms as pens for our goats and cattle. The prevailing situation is no longer conducive for meaningful learning.”
Parents were also irked to learn that only $700 was reported to be in the school account.
When contacted for comment, Mutare District Education Officer, Mr Nathaniel Machini, referred this reporter to Manicaland Provincial Education Director, Mr Edward Shumba whose mobile phone was not reachable at the time of going to Print.
However, Mr Wengai Tembenuka, a member of the National Education Union of Zimbabwe, said the move to attach the school property was taken to let the school authorities see how serious the case was and make efforts to pay the three women.
He said: “The school was advised to make every child pay $36 to offset the debt, but the SDA was too arrogant to listen to the advice. If they fail to settle the debt, the school property will be auctioned. The school will also be charged storage fee for their property by the Messenger of Court.” Manica Post