|October 4, 2007
Let the children return to school, demands opposition party
Just a day before Botswana celebrated her 41st anniversary, members of the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) mounted a demonstration to protest the introduction of school fees in Kanye. In the petition headed "No to Commercialisation of Education", the BNF demanded re-instatement of the right to free education with immediate effect. Some of the placards read "Nkate Let The Children go Back To School", "Government Should Stop Selling Education", and "Domkrag You Love Money Than Your People". Protest songs characterised the Minister of Education Jacob Nkate as Tinto, an extremely irresponsible man in a popular folk song whose children go hungry.
The petition furthermore stated that in less than a year since the government re-introduced school fees with assurances by Nkate that no child would be sent home for parents' failure to pay school fees, hundreds of students were languishing at home, having been sent away from school. The problem is assuming alarming proportions: "Indeed the BNF regards this problem as a ticking time bomb which must be tackled sooner rather than later," the petition said. The BNF said it was disturbing that the "minister does not even have the courtesy and moral decency to apologise for lying to the nation."
The ending of free education was a clear sign that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party was "jumping into the bandwagon of its imperialist masters". The BNF moreover believed that education should not be reduced to a commodity to be traded on the market. The BNF petition argued that good health was essential for effective learning, while education was a powerful means of enabling people to attain and maintain good health. It stated that health had a multiplier effect on the community, adding that communities which resisted the immunisation of children against measles in Botswana were basically illiterate.
Although the BNF acknowledges that Botswana has performed relatively better than most African countries in the provision of basic education, it looks upon the re-introduction of school fees as a retrogressive step that will eradicate that modest achievement.
The petition moreover said that the re-introduction of school fees, as a cost-recovery measure, was in sharp contrast to Government's splashing out of over P20 million on the retirement home for President Festus Mogae or P30 million on the shooting of a film on location in Botswana, a reference to the adaptation of Scotsman McCall Smith's novels, the No.1 Ladies Detective.
(Mmegi/The Reporter, Gaborone)