I AM proud to consider myself part of Robert Mugabe’s awakening of African education in Zimbabwe at the outset of his presidency, and however mixed are the international judgments on his 37 years as head of state in other spheres of his rule, there is much unanimity as to the outstanding rise in literacy in Zimbabwe during his time in government.
As twice a teacher there, in the early 1980s and again in 1990, I hope this literacy has persisted and not become a casualty of events.
I know when I was a teacher there, having emigrated a few months after attending a recruitment interview in Manchester, and being accorded permanent residence too, I found the welcome from the then Ministry of Education and Culture in keeping with what I was told by my recruitment team interviewer, a white Zimbabwean – that the first focus of the new government immediately after they took the reins of power was the schools. Until then the white population was the main beneficiary of the educational system that had existed under Ian Smith’s Rhodesian government.
During my first spell in Zimbabwe as a teacher I was joined by some Australians whose government was committed to them going there to the extent that it continued to pay them salaries in Australia which awaited their three-years-contract return from Zimbabwe. Not to mention that their home salaries were much greater than those in Zimbabwe.
This contrasted with my situation, as I was entirely dependent on my Zimbabwe pay and had indeed emigrated with my wife and two of our three children, having ensured the wellbeing of our oldest daughter in Scotland as we were best able. There was no programme by Britain in support of the new Zimbabwean Government’s drive to open up its schools to all that country’s children. Hence I went there knowing that I was going independently and had my one-way flight, and that of my accompanying family, paid by the Zimbabwean Government.
Despite which I was delighted to enjoy my time there and look back on both occasions fondly. I could easily write a book about the many funny and otherwise experiences I had, though they were so many and sometimes so complex that maybe this is why my book remains unwritten.
As with reactions to the death of Robert Mugabe among Zimbabweans themselves, there is every indication of the complexity in such matters, and my experiences were likewise.
I do know I was fortunate in being in that country twice when it enjoyed relative prosperity, even though I did encounter the difficulties of petrol stations running out of fuel etc, but am also aware that there was as well much hand-to-mouth living among many of the black African people, though not at all on the scale as now reported.
It is regrettable that politics is too often unable to ensure prosperity and that some of humankind’s uglier behaviour prevails in the power of government. But it is also right to say that this not only a problem in some countries of Africa but in all the inhabited continents, including our own.