Harare – Cash-strapped Zimbabwe’s latest plan to have parents pay school fees in goats has got some Zimbabweans up in arms – but not everyone thinks it’s a bad idea.
Education Minister Lazarus Dokora and a ministry official have told the state-controlled Sunday Mail that schools must be “flexible” when demanding outstanding fees from parents.
“Parents of the concerned pupils can pay their fees using livestock,” education ministry permanent secretary Sylvia Utete-Masango was quoted as saying.
News of the new fees deal (which also includes encouraging parents in towns and cities to offer free labour at schools in lieu of hard cash) comes after Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa announced last week that banks could now accept goats, cattle, sheep and chickens as collateral for loans.
Zimbabwe is in the grip of worsening cash shortages that mean locals frequently spend hours in bank queues to withdraw cash.
Shops have just been ordered to reduce the amount of cash they allow card-holders to take as “cashback” to just $20, though many stores no longer offer this service.
Report Focus saw shoppers queuing for just $4 in cashback earlier this month. Most cashback is in the form of “bond notes”, a special-to-Zimbabwe currency that has no value outside the country, except perhaps to novelty hunters on Ebay.
President Robert Mugabe‘s government says the cash shortages are due to people “externalising” hard cash (taking it out of the country) and retailers who refuse to bank their cash.
But critics say it’s to do with the lack of investment and years of low industrial production and rising unemployment inside Zimbabwe.
Hyperinflation wiped out Zimbabwe’s precursor to the bond note, the “bearer cheque”, in 2008-9.
The goats-for-fees-and-collateral plan has elicited responses ranging from scorn to something much more accommodating on social media.
Well-known filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga tweeted: “If we had been told in 1970 ‘We are fighting to introduce cattle and goats as currency. Please help & die for this” what would we have said?”
Publisher Trevor Ncube asked in a tweet: “Who needs the greenback when you have goats?”
A joke circulating on WhatsApp has a picture of a goat and the words: “BREAKING NEWS: Zimbabwe introduces a new currency.”
There are those who see the goats-for-fees offer as a practical solution in cases where parents have no cash. “Better mbudzi (goats) than no fees at all,” said one Zimbabwean.
Others felt it was not fair that the schools would now have the headache of trying to find a buyer with cash for the goats – while it’s also been pointed out that not every rural parent has goats or property to barter.
Lawyer and activist Fadzayi Mahere said: “Cows and goats to secure bank loans. Cows and goats to pay school fees. Very soon we shall need a Reserve Kraal of Zimbabwe.”