Colonialism and Education in Zimbabwe
By Prof Rungano Zvobgo (PhD)
Published by SAPES Books (1994)
AN education system has two main functions according to Prof Rungano Zvobgo; first to impart the skills, training and habits needed in the economy of a nation for the production of goods and services.
The second function is to impart the cultural, moral and behavioural values of society, notably appropriate attitudes of respect for the rulers, their institutions and their agents.
The book Colonialism and Education in Zimbabwe focuses on the atrocities committed by Rhodesians during the colonial era.
Prof Zvobgo shows how the early colonial period (1890-1923) dispossessed people of their land and forced them to work in mines and on settler-farms when they would not voluntarily undertake wage employment.
“Africans preferred living and farming as independent peasants and in the early years of the colony, many were taking advantage of the new commercial opportunities to become fairly prosperous farmers. They also feared that wage labour would destroy traditional communal life.”
Lifestyle and culture of the indigenes were destroyed.
Deprivation of land, forced labour, insensitivity by British South Africa Company officials led by Cecil John Rhodes resulted in the first rebellion (Chimurenga) during which both the Shona and Ndebele engaged in a war of resistance against colonial rule.
Restrictive laws were passed against the rightful owners of the land.
Rhodes roped in missionaries to participate in his colonial design.
“Missionaries were better able to ‘sell’ Western values and beliefs to the African population than the settlers.
“The imperialists saw no distinction between their own aims and the aims of the missionaries as regards the propagation of Christianity, British civilisation and culture,” states the writer.
Christianity disregarded the religion and beliefs of the local people.
Christianity informed the black majority that it was meant to eliminate the ‘heathen and tyrannous native rule’.
And 37 years after independence, Christianity is still the dominant religion in the country.
African Traditional Religion (ATR) recognised the role of Mwari or Musikavanhu as being divine and sovereign just like the Christians acknowledge that there is one God who is sovereign.
However, the local religion was labelled ‘barbaric and heathen’.
The author explains how everything done by blacks was denoted inferior.
Prof Zvobgo writes that the role of Christianity was to make Africans ‘better servants, honest and truthful’.
White thinking always has the blackman as servant and never master.
After the missionaries had paved way for colonisers through their religion, the next crucial institution to take over was education.
Thus the education system was designed to consolidate white hegemony.
“For those Africans who were able to attend school, the curriculum ensured that they would acquire only those skills needed by the settler-controlled economy and administration and that they accepted their inferior status in society.”
Hence, for blacks, emphasis was on the practical subjects such as woodwork and metalwork.
“There were also a lot of bottle necks because in that era, employment, income and social status were closely related to the level of educational achievement.
The lack of training opportunities and skills amongst the majority of Africans gave colonial governments the perfect justification for discriminating against Africans in all areas of employment.
This made it easy to exclude Africans from more skilled and better paid jobs on the simple grounds that they were not qualified to do this work.
There was no minimum wage for these workers and no provisions for decent housing and other social services.”
All this came to an end when, after a protracted liberation struggle, Zimbabwe gained its independence on April 18 1980.
Whites lost their political power although they still controlled the economy which was agro-based.
This would later be addressed through the land redistribution exercise.
To ensure that everyone had equal access to education, President Mugabe adopted the ‘Education for All’ policy which provided for education for all primary school-going children.
This has seen Zimbabwe ranked first in terms of literacy levels in Africa.
More primary, secondary and tertiary institutions have been built to accommodate every Zimbabwean.
Every province now has a university.
And, to ensure that the educational curriculum inculcates patriotism among the learners, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education now has a revolutionised approach which has seen the introduction of the National School Pledge and the Family Religion and Moral Education which focus on local culture and religion.
The new curriculum also focuses on the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) including entrepreneurship so that the country’s education system meets the national requirements of indigenisation and empowerment.