Goats for fees is no joke

Debra Matabvu and Wendy Gwata recently in Hwedza
A trip of goats springs into view as we approach St Anthony Zvidhuri Secondary School in Hwedza.

Occasionally, these adventurous little herbivores try to enter the school’s classrooms only to be chased out by the occupants.

They scamper in different directions, bleating in discordant tune.

Strangely though, no one seems bothered about their being in the school yard.

It is only later that a first-time visitor to the institution learns that the goats are school property, or assets, if one so chooses to call them that.

Livestock in this part of Zimbabwe is the popular mode of tuition fees payment.

St Anthony has since 2015 accepted this payment mode in lieu of school fees, and the concept became more entrenched when Primary and Secondary Education Minister Dr Lazarus Dokora broached the subject in April.

“When we heard about Minister Dokora’s idea regarding livestock and tuition fees, we were not surprised. It was not news to us,” school head Ms Rutendo Mwaramba says. “Takatoti minister ndovakasara; isu tiri kumberi (We figured the minister was behind us on this innovation).

“To us, the jokes that circulated on social media (regarding goats) were not funny because that is our everyday life; that’s how we have derived sustenance over the years.”

Some parents in the area fail to raise the US$20 tuition fees charged per term, and livestock bails them out.Ms Mwaramba says goats are preferred as they can be liquidated easily.

The animals are usually sold for US$20-US$30 each. “The reality is that the buyers of the goats are teachers from both the primary and secondary schools. . .Once a goat has been bought, we then get the cash and receipt it and everyone is happy.”

The school has built a goat pen, and keeps a separate register for those on “goat currency”.

The herdboy is a parent who works for the school in lieu of paying fees.

Mrs Mwaramba adds: “With the current situation in the country, we have to come up with innovative ways to develop and keep children in school. Those who can afford to joke about such matters know that they can afford to get cash, but for those who cannot get cash this is a better alternative. And still, parents who do not have livestock can offer their labour.”

A parent, Mr Chenjerai Kunonga, says: “The system is very helpful to those of us who cannot afford to pay tuition fees for our children in cash. Goats are easy to get compared to cattle. “However, there is need for formal markets; markets that will regulate prices.

“At the moment, we are at the mercy of a few individuals, thus there is need for Government intervention.”

St Anthony has 93 students, and is building classroom blocks using the labour of parents.

It had the district’s sixth-highest Ordinary Level Examination pass rate in 2016, beating 13 other schools.

As the bell rings, signalling the end of yet another day of schooling, the goats are rounded up, counted and shepherded into their pen.

Goats for fees is no joke, it is something – when well-managed – that works.

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