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Last Updated: Friday, 7 May, 2004, 14:12 GMT 15:12 UK
Zimbabwe schools crisis 'over'
School children from a private school in Harare walk past a sign post stating that the school has been shut down

Zimbabwe's education minister has said 45 private schools will be allowed to open, after being prevented from reopening for a new term on Tuesday.

"The crisis is over," Aeneas Chigwedere told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme, adding that police had been withdrawn from the school gates.

The schools had been closed because they increased their fees without government approval.

Mr Chigwedere said all schools knew they had violated the education act.

The schools have "seen the wisdom of seeking an accommodation with the government in order to allow them to re-open," the minister said.

Private schools must seek permission to increase fees by more than 10%. Annual inflation is currently more than 580%.

Mr Chigwedere had accused the schools of massively increasing fees to keep out black pupils.

"We are dealing with racist schools. They are all former white schools, all racist."

Schools have seen the wisdom of seeking an accommodation with the government in order to allow them to re-open
Aeneas Chigwedere

The South African Press Agency reports that most of those who attend the private schools are now black.

Some 30,000 schoolchildren were affected by the closures.

The minister told the BBC that the school summer holidays would be shortened by a week to make up for the time lost due to this dispute.

Arrests

On Thursday, the High Court ruled that the government acted illegally in closing Hartmann House private school in the capital, Harare.

The court ordered the police not to interfere in the smooth running of the school.

Other schools in the south of the country had also filed legal challenges to the closure, but it is unclear if their cases are still going ahead.

At least six head teachers have been arrested over the fee increases.

They have been released on bail and are due in court on Friday.

Educational decline

In his independence day address on 18 April, President Mugabe criticised the increase in fees for private schools.

"Our principal goal of attaining education for all appears to be in real jeopardy with some schools charging as much as 10 million (Zimbabwe) dollars a term," the president said.

"The government will soon come up with arrangements which will continue to make education accessible to each and every child regardless of his status or family background."

But some observers say the government has allowed the country's education system to decline, after it was greatly expanded after independence.

State-run schools in the country are reportedly in a critical condition - with many having classes of around 80 pupils.

There is also said to be a shortage of teachers, textbooks, desks and classrooms.

A recent survey by an International Monetary Fund research group, reported that school enrolment had declined by 60% in Zimbabwe last year because of fee hikes in both state and private schools.

According to recent reports, some parents have had to choose which of their children to educate as the fees to attend state schools have risen from between 200 and 2,000%.


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