Former First Lady Grace Mugabe ‘s business empire continues to crumble after reports of the mass exodus of students, teachers and parents from her flagship schools citing a wide array of problems from ill-treatment to poor working conditions emerged.
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Since the removal from power and subsequent death of Robert Mugabe, things have unravelled quite fast for the Grace Mugabe Foundation, which runs the schools, children’s home and other projects.
Leaked documents that Zimbabwe Voice obtained from disgruntled teachers at the Amai Grace Mugabe Junior School in Mazowe show that authorities have had to terminate contracts of the few remaining teaching and other support staff citing “subdued business performance and closure of other projects” such as the former First Family’s poultry projects in Kutama which used to feed revenue into the schools.
However, a source at the Grace Mugabe Foundation, which wrote the termination letters, told Zimbabwe Voice that the schools were benefiting from the Government Ministers who used be ambushed to provide teachers and other resources to the schools through threats when Robert Mugabe was still in power.
It also emerged that even as some teachers are being fired, the Amai Grace Mugabe school was also recruiting teachers and students.
A cook at the school also highlighted the plight of staff and students.
“We actually engaged in a strike towards the end of third term last year after we were told there wouldn’t be any bonuses. It affected the food timetable and kids had their early morning porridge towards lunchtime,” she said.
The cooking staff have also not been left out of the firing range. They received the same letters as the teachers.
“For and on behalf of the Executive Director (Grace Mugabe), I write to inform you of your employment termination with effect from 31 December 2019…,” a letter shown to Zimbabwe Voice by an affected teacher reads in part.
The letter further says should the business environment improve, the fired teachers will be re engaged subject to their availability and other factors.
“It started when some teachers resigned enmasse citing poor salaries and slave era working conditions,” said a fired teacher, who requested anonymity.
She added: “Since the removal from power of her husband, Grace has been treating teachers like slaves. Married teachers are not allowed to bring their spouses into their places of residence within the school premises. Also, each teacher is given one room to stay in.”
Zimbabwe Voice called a matron at the Grace Mugabe Children’s Home in Mazoe, and pretended to be a recently recruited teacher who wanted to check the places of residence over the holidays ahead of the opening of schools.
The matron, who identified herself as Mrs. Mujuru, confirmed that the places of residence were single rooms no matter the age of the teacher.
“No, you can’t bring in your spouse. I’m sorry, but that’s school policy,” she said tersely, when asked if spouses were allowed to live in the premises.
Another former teacher at the school says he resigned after realising he was staring being fired right in his face.
“I saw it coming from a long way off. By early 2018, it was clear that the Mugabe empire was collapsing. Some of us tried to rough it out but we could only get so far,” he told Zimbabwe Voice.
The teacher added: “If I were to be honest, I enjoyed my stay at the school, but only until the end of 2017 when the Mugabes lost power. I joined the school when it was still under construction and very small, and we helped build the school.
“By August this year, most of us were beginning to look elsewhere for jobs. I got an offer somewhere and placed the school on notice in September. I served the school until end of this year and am not returning there.”
A senior teacher at the school, who however said he is not along those being fired, confirmed that the going was tough for Amai Grace Mugabe schools.
“We are enrolling for 2020, but at a much subdued pace that ever. From about 200 fee-paying students at our peak in 2017, we now have only 24. The rest are orphans and not fee-paying.
“We relied heavily on the STEM students brought in by Professor Jonathan Moyo when he was Minister. Government was paying treble the fees for those students, so when the payments were cut under the New Dispensation, we felt the pressure in our pockets. Salaries got cut almost instantly but it was still much better than it is now.
“Last year, we had three Form 1 classes. This year, we would be lucky to even fill up one. A major reason is the high staff turnover, which has seen parents responding in kind by withdrawing their kids. I personally doubt the school can last the year 2020,” the teacher disclosed.
The school bursar refused to speak to this publication.
Parents also expressed anger at the way their fees was “wasted” as there wasn’t much learning going on especially the last two terms of the year 2019.
“Honestly, we feel hard done by Grace Mugabe and the education ministry. We raise our complaints that kids weren’t learning at all but the authorities wouldn’t act, for some reason,” said a parent, who also wouldn’t want to be named.
“Teachers were disgruntled all year and there hasn’t been mu h learning there. In all fairness, that school is a proper fraud and must not be allowed to continue defrauding parents any more.”
Zimbabwe Voice chased up the issue with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, but wouldn’t get a response as officials were said to be on holidays.
Meanwhile, at the Grace Mugabe’s poultry project in Kutama, some 90km west of Harare, workers have also been fired by the Grace Mugabe Foundation.
“We received the termination of contract letters on 31 December,” a worker there, who would rather be identified as Gwati, told Zimbabwe Voice.
“We were shocked to see that the termination letters were written from Grace Mugabe Foundation, yet we were never in the employ of the Foundation.
“We signed Gushungo Holdings contracts, not Grace Mugabe Foundation. So to us, an option we have is to take the legal route. We are still to take a common stance going forward, but I’m sure we’ll have to engage a lawyer as we feel our labour rights have been breached by the Former First Lady,” said Gwati.
His letter of termination was the same as that handed to teachers.
Amai Mugabe Junior School officially opened its doors to the public on the 8th January 2014, amid much pomp and fanfare. A year later, the school recorded a 100% pass rate at Grade 7 examinations.
Documents gleaned by Zimbabwe Voice also show that the Amai Grace Mugabe Junior School was actually handed over to the Government of Zimbabwe by the Chinese Government.
The handover certificate was signed on Zimbabwe’s behalf by Ignatius Chombo who at the time was the acting Minister of Primary and Secondary Education.
Meanwhile, the collapse of the Mugabes business empire is spreading wide, with none of their business entities apparently affected by the lack of access to State resources which they used to enjoy.
Mazowe, about 40 kilometers north of the capital Harare, used to be owned exclusively by white farmers. But when Mugabe’s Government implemented land seizures 20 years ago, he and his wife took several of the top farms in this area.
“We never met him (Mugabe) but he took good care of us,” said Monica Tamanikwa, a farm employee, walking with her three year-old daughter.
She said workers on Mugabe’s farms were always paid on time and at times in cash, unlike workers at other properties. “If we run out of food, we just go to the farm to ask and we get it.”
Some workers said they hope Mugabe’s widow will improve their living conditions – if she holds on to the property.
“I used to hold lots of hope that Mai Mugabe would increase salaries and improve these houses,” said another farm labourer, pointing to her mud and grass hut. “Look, this is my bedroom, it is falling apart.”
But in a country where the government enjoys vast powers over farm ownership, Grace Mugabe will need President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s magnanimity to keep the land.
So far, President Mnangagwa has showed little appetite for revenge over the troubles he went through when the Mugabes were in their last days in power. Still, some say Mugabe’s legacy may fail to protect Grace, and that it’s a matter of time before the Zanu-PF dogs begin biting at Grace.
“In politics, unlike in religion, the dead do not protect the living,” said Alexander Rusero, a Harare-based political analyst.
“It will be about what she says, what she does in the post-Mugabe era. For as long as her actions and moves do not upset or threaten power, she will absolutely be safe,” said Rusero.
The family’s wealth is not publicly known and Mugabe in the past denied stashing money outside the country. They own more than a dozen farms, mainly taken from white farmers.
In April last year, President Mnangagwa’s government stopped funding dozens of pupils attending Grace Mugabe’s private school under the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) programme after it emerged that the school controversially benefited from the state-sponsored initiative.
At the time, Government said it was paying fees totalling US$3 800 per term for each of the 18 pupils enrolled at Amai Mugabe High School under the Stem programme.
The Stem programme was meant to benefit pupils attending government, council and mission schools but not elite private schools. Maximum fees the government was required to pay was US$1200 per child per term.
In a year government was paying Amai Mugabe High School a total of US$205 200 for the 18 students for three terms.
Following the withdrawal, government advised parents to either pay for the fees individually or look for affordable schools for the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund (Zimdef) to continue to pay.Zimbabwevoice
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