Parents with children at Lobengula Primary School in Bulawayo are calling for the suspension of the school headmistress, her deputy and bursar over alleged irregularities and financial malpractices taking place at the school.
In a long petition, parents listed several issues they were unhappy about – using bond paper to receipt fees, lack of an audit, collecting forex for personal use while swiping fees in local currency, hiring prisoners to build an ECD block and making guardians pay fees for learners receiving help under the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM).
The parents claimed the school administration is “friends” with a business named “SCARA” that makes and sells uniforms, and produces learners’ reports.
Such acts smirk at nepotism claimed parents, who suspected the school officials were also connected to one business that usually brings in horses for learners’ recreational horse-riding activities.
Of concern were allegations that the school’s security officer would slap the buttocks of some girls, with parents accusing school officials of trying to cover up the matter.
So bad is the situation that parents claimed: “some children transferred and have flooded Lotshe while others have been sent to rural schools.”
Speaking at a meeting organised by a steering committee in conjunction with the School Development Committee (SDC) on Friday, parents and guardians called for the speedy removal of the school head (a Mudzudzu), the deputy (a Nkomo) and bursar (a Nyahanana) while investigations were being done.
“The school head, her deputies and bursar are deliberately flouting and weakening their internal control systems in order to benefit,” said the parents at the meeting approved by SDC chair, Prince Khumbulani Sibanda.
The steering committee spokesperson, Zhwaki Lunga, said it is made up of parents who willingly volunteered to take a lead in the matter in order to bring sanity and transparency in the school and do away with the “exploitative and corrupt system.”
“Our children are being victimised, can the head go on a mandatory leave because our children are abused and harassed. They are given sweets and we don’t even know what is in those sweets. Our Grade Seven learners must write their exams with a focused mind,” said a parent.
Initially at the start of the meeting, a team from the District Schools Inspectorate (DSI) was in attendance but left after they could not agree on how to proceed with their inquiry.
The DSI wanted to interview parents one by one but parents advised it was better for them to be engaged collectively for transparency and highlighted it was them who had sought for an audience with the DSI to deal with their grievances.
Most of the attendees had even brought evidence of allegations raised such as the ‘bond receipts’ while some parents whose children were slapped by the security personnel were also present.
After failing to reach an agreement, the DSI team excused themselves from the meeting, saying it had to consult its superiors leaving parents to speculate it was in support of the school administration.
Nevertheless, the parents agreed to report this matter to the police and engage the office of the Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister since they had not received joy from the DSI.
“We demand that the school undergoes a thorough external audit, whose outcome be made known to us. For the best outcome, a new start and relations for our children and parents, the administration staff and security man should be relieved of their duties at Lobengula Primary school,” said the parents.
Contacted for comment, Director of Communications and Advocacy in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Taungana Ndoro said they “were still conducting investigations.”
Another concern raised by parents was how Lobengula Primary operated like a private institution charging hefty fees (US$144 and extras).
“We demand an investigation into the ECD block that has been uncompleted for so long yet we have been paying a Building fund towards its construction since 2015. We need to know if the block has gone through a formal inspection and certification, as it was hurriedly lifted up by prisoners but doesn’t seem to be well built,” they said.
One parent claimed a teacher informed her they were instructed not to discuss anything with them concerning their children’s performance with others citing the school cared more for children who stayed for extra lessons done clandestinely.
“Extra lessons run after school from 12 pm to 2 pm while other children would have been dismissed at 12pm,” they said.
“We suspect that this practice is disadvantageous to our children as the teacher is likely to concentrate on private students and neglect the formal class.”