Chief Nemakonde of Makonde District in Zvimba, Mashonaland West Province, is under fire for confiscating property from villagers failing to pay children’s school fees.
In a rare case that involves School Development Councils (SDCs) in Makonde District, Chief Nemakonde has been taking villagers' property to force parents to settle outstanding school fees and levies they owe schools in his area.
At a meeting held at Biri Primary School recently, parents agreed to settle their outstanding fees at the end of the agricultural season, agreeing the chief should confiscate their property if they failed to do so.
The meeting was convened by parents after realising that some of them were resisting paying school fees and levies with others going for years without paying a cent.
But some parents dismissed the confiscation of their property as illegal saying the chief doesn't have that any jurisdiction on this issue, adding they were not part to the "illegal agreement".
Villager David Manola, who owes the school $125, said he is against the involvement of the chief in recovering the fees as he lost his property, including a plough and a television set.
Another villager, widow Anna Nyatsanza of Village 4 in Potelet area, said she lost a bicycle, radio, table and utensils because she owes the school $94 in levies.
What irked her most is that her goods were greatly undervalued.
Although Nyatsanza agreed that she owes the school money, she promised to pay once she sold her tobacco next month. She said the chief's aides would not hear any of it.
An elderly local man, Jacob Mukusha, said it is not the chief's duty to get involved in school matters. Mukusha said the chief should deal with issues to do with marital problems, spirit mediums and other traditional matters.
When Studio 7 visited the area, they saw Biri Primary SDC Vice Chairman Tsitsi Zarima helping the chief's aides to confiscate villagers’ property using a scotch-cart.
Zarima said parents have been refusing to pay school fees even when they can afford, especially as villagers in the area are known for producing a good tobacco crop and the staple, maize.
Zarimba said confiscation is the only language the villagers understand.
This was buttressed by Mukusha who said parents should work hard for their children and that includes sending them to school.
But other villagers complained that some SDC members, who are on the forefront, do not have children still attending school.
Another local living in Village 2, Mudhumeni Magutsa, blamed the local Member of Parliament Kindness Paradza for promising to pay the fees during his campaign but "disappeared when he was voted".
But Paradza said he did not promise to pay the outstanding fees for villagers but to help schools to recover the money.
A teacher at Biri School, who refused to be identified as she is not allowed to speak to the media, said the school doesn't even have chalks, adding no improvements have been recorded at the school because parents are refusing to pay.
Mashonaland West Education Ministry Director, Sylvester Mashayamombe, said as long as "the child is not sent back home and teachers are not directly involved" the ministry will not intervene as the parents are said to have agreed to the action being taken by the chief.
Biri School has about 500 pupils and is owed around $22,000 in fees arrears as of this term.
School children are required to pay $13 per term for school levy, an amount agreed on by parents at an annual general meeting.