Page last updated at 13:26 GMT, Monday, 6 October 2008 14:26 UK

Zimbabwe school fees paid in cows

By Themba Nkosi
BBC News, Bulawayo

Man with cows
Cattle are a better store of value than Zimbabwe dollars

Some schools in south-western Zimbabwe are asking for their fees to be paid in livestock or fuel coupons, the BBC has learnt.

Those without coupons have been asked to deliver 700 litres of fuel.

One teacher said the idea originally came from parents unable to access enough local currency.

Zimbabwe is going through an economic crisis and banks only let people withdraw 20,000 Zimbabwean dollars (about $20; 11) a day.

Though politicians in Zimbabwe signed a power-sharing deal last month, the country is still suffering from an acute economic crisis.

The last official figure given for annual inflation was 11,000,000%. In August, the central bank struck 10 zeros from the currency, making 10bn Zimbabwe dollars equal to one new dollar.

One parent said he would have to spend several days queuing in the bank to get enough cash to pay the fees of Z$100,000.

Cows or goats

"Many schools these days are doing it and we should blame the government not schools," said another parent, with two children at a school in the province of Matabeleland South.

Cows are the usual method of payment because of their higher value, though poor people in rural areas have also used goats.

A Zimbabwean buying bread in Harare, 21 September 2008
Zimbabwe has been suffering from chronic inflation

One problem is how to determine the market value of the animal, since cattle sales have ceased amid Zimbabwe's economic crisis.

Themba Sithole, an official for the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, criticised schools which demand fees in the form of livestock or fuel coupons.

"The question here is who is benefiting from this practice. Is it the school or individual teachers or heads?" he asked.

But Eunice Sandi, a former Zanu-PF senator for the Bulilima constituency, said schools should not come under fire.

"We must not blame schools when they ask us as parents to find ways of beating the cash crisis," she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Petra High School was one of those demanding payments in kind. The school has denied this and the BBC accepts that this is not the case.

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