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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 May, 2004, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
Zimbabwe school heads arrested
School children from a private school in Harare walk past a sign post stating that the school has been shut down
Some 30,000 pupils are reported to be affected by the closures
Police in Zimbabwe have detained several head teachers after the recent closure of 45 private schools.

The teachers were arrested during overnight raids across the country, including in the capital, Harare, and the second city, Bulawayo.

Police were deployed to the schools on Tuesday to prevent them re-opening for the new term in a row over fee hikes.

A court has ordered that one of Harare's top schools be reopened, the AFP news agency reports.

A state lawyer did not contest the request by parents and teachers from Hartmann House Preparatory School, AFP says.

At least three head teachers have been arrested and unconfirmed reports say several more have also been detained.

'Racist schools'

Education Minister Aeneas Chigwedere accused the schools of massively increasing fees to keep out blacks.

"They throw Africans out simply by hiking fees," he said on state television.

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

The ministry is not punishing the schools but the students
Richard Majwabu
Schools' lawyer

Some 30,000 schoolchildren have been affected. The South African Press Agency reports that most of those who attend the private schools are now black.

The governing bodies of 17 schools around Bulawayo have filed legal challenges to the closure, reports the AFP news agency.

"What the ministry has done is illegal," a lawyer for the schools around Bulawayo, Richard Majwabu, told AFP.

"The ministry is not punishing the schools but the students," he said.

The challenges are due to be heard on Friday, he said.

Other schools are reducing the scale of their price hikes so they can reopen, reports the state-run Herald newspaper.

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

Some school officials have accused the ministry of being slow to approve fee hikes.

Educational decline

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

President Robert Mugabe
In the 1980s, Mugabe was praised for expanding education
"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.

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