By Professor Matodzi
Bulawayo, February 12, 2016 – Rights lawyers on Tuesday successfully challenged school authorities at the city’s Townsend High School against withholding two pupils’ examination certificates to try and force the payment of outstanding fees.
This is after they had refused to release sisters, Takudzwa and Tanaka Ngwasha’s Ordinary Level examination certificates because of their parents’ failure to settle debts owed to the Group A school.
For that, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) issued the school with a seven day ultimatum to stop the controversial practice or face litigation.
Before the decision, school authorities were adamant the two’s certificates would not be released if they did not fully settle outstanding fees and levies.
The sisters, aged 19 and 17, were only allowed access to result slips which they had used to pursue Advanced Level studies but could not enrol for tertiary education without certificates.
However, on Tuesday, the school authorities went back on their decision and released the pupils’ O’ Level certificates.
“Reference is made on the issue of withheld O level certificates for Tanaka and Takudzwa Ngwasha,” reads part of a letter by the school head only identified as Mrs M Moyo.
“Please advise your clients to collect their certificates from the bursar’s office anytime between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm from Monday to Friday.”
The letter was addressed to the pair’s legal practitioners, Nosimilo Chanayiwa and Lizwe Jamela of ZLHR.
Moyo was responding to a letter written by the lawyers Monday in which they gave the school head seven days to release the pupils’ certificates.
The human rights lawyers challenged the school authorities’ conduct of using children as pawns to enforce payment as unlawful and an abuse of authority on the part of the institution.
Jamela and Chanayiwa warned the practice had no legal basis as schools cannot sue minors who have no direct contracts with institutions to pay fees.
“We would like to state that the issues relating to a child’s school fees are a responsibility of their parents or guardians and children are separate individuals who should not be caught in between any disputes between the guardians and the school.
“The examination certificates in question belong to the children and not their guardians,” reads part of Chanayiwa and Jamela’s letter.
The human rights lawyers argued that when a parent or guardian secures a place for a child at a school or tertiary institution, a contract is entered into between the said institution and the parent on fee payment.
Failure to do so, the lawyers argued, the school should sue the parent to recover the said fees.
Tanaka and Takudzwa are the latest pupils to be saved by ZLHR from tough school authorities after the lawyers group once cornered authorities at the government-run John Cowie Primary School in Rusape who had refused to enrol a female pupil they had previously barred for sporting long hair.
The school was forced to rescind its decision after the girl’s parents engaged Blessing Nyamaropa of ZLHR who in turn challenged the authorities against religious discrimination.
By refusing to enrol the child, Nyamaropa argued, school officials had acted illegally and had violated the child’s right to freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed under Section 60 of the Constitution and Section 4 of the Education Act.
Section 75 of the Constitution provides for children’s fundamental right to education.