Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

A proposal by Zimbabwe’s education minister has set the country abuzz, over his suggestion for school fees to be settled in livestock, in particular goats.

Strong doubts remain, however, about the feasibility of Lazarus Dokora’s proposal, with unions dismissing this as banter.

However, Dokora who has a reputation for making outlandish proposals in the past, has suggested that livestock may soon be accepted as a form of payment at schools in the country.

At the weekend, he said "schools had to be flexible", further suggesting that labour could also be offered as a form of payment to schools.

Schools are closed for holidays and re-open for the second term in May.

Dokora’s proposal came after finance minister Patrick Chinamasa’s tabling before parliament of a bill that allows for motor vehicles, livestock and any moveable assets to be used in order to secure lending from banks.

Chinamasa said the proposed law would "promote financial inclusion to small and medium enterprises, women, youths and other underbanked groups and increase access to credit."

However, instead of striking a chord with parents and other stakeholders, Dokora’s proposals for livestock to be used in lieu of cash payment has cast the spotlight on the extent of the country’s economic collapse.

For more than a year, Zimbabwe has been battling an acute shortage of US dollars. Banks have been forced to impose withdrawal limits in order to equitably dispense the scarce bank notes available, while cutting down on the use of international bank cards.

The central bank has also limited cash allowed for travelling outside the country to $1,000, while it has drawn up a payments priority list of how it will allocate the scarce dollars for the payment of critical goods and services.

If Dokora’s proposal is to be implemented, there is no sign of it.

"Is that feasible that fees can be paid using livestock? There are a lot of logistical things to consider before this can happen. Are we taking people back to the stone age and imposing barter trade?" asked Japhet Moyo, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, in Harare.

"I’m not sure we have the correct people in corridors of power and as a labour movement, we are trying to talk to find out if this is government policy or this is personal opinion."

David Coltart, an opposition leader and former education minister during the short-lived unity government which ended in July 2013 said the proposal was another sign of a failed economic policy under Mugabe.

"It’s a reflection of the failed economic policies of this regime. It shows how far things have collapsed; people are now forced to use livestock and are reverting back to a barter economy," Coltart said on Wednesday in an interview by phone from Bulawayo.

"The problem is that school heads and teachers are trained educationists and are not farmers. The prospect of hundreds of parents turning up with livestock such as goats to pay for school fees is very problematic. All it does is simply shift the pressure of finding cash from parents to teachers, which will have the problem of converting goats into cash in order to buy things such as chalk, books and other teaching aids," Coltart said.

The payment of school fees using livestock could also prove to be a thorny issue for the government’s public servants numbering about 550,000.

Teachers unions worry that their employer might make an about-turn and offer the livestock as payment for salaries.

The relationship between public servants and their employer has soured following the latter’s irregular payment of salaries and the nonpayment of annual bonuses due last November.

The public servants rejected an offer made to pay their annual bonuses by the government through residential stands in lieu of cash payment, leaving government officials to look high and low for cash to pay the bonuses.

Kipson Gundani, chief economist at Buy Zimbabwe, a local lobby group that supports the local manufacturing sector, said the prospect of a barter economy emerging in Zimbabwe was a real possibility for as long as the necessary economic reforms continued to be sidelined.

"It’s inevitable where there is too little cash circulating, and all this shows real desperation," said Gundani as he pointed out that Zimbabwe was losing much of its liquidity through imports, illicit outflows and cash hoarding.

Social media has also joined in on the buzz around "livestock", bringing out the humour of the proposal to pay school fees in livestock.

Video clips and pictures of goats have been circulated on social media as ordinary Zimbabweans mock the latest installment of solutions tabled for the economic quagmire.

Jacob Mafume, spokesperson of the People’s Democratic Party, mockingly warned that whoever the gods want to destroy, they first make mad.

"The issue is not the unavailability of livestock … it’s the ability to turn products and services into cash that’s the issue. One can have a herd of goats but no one to sell them to. Our economy is in tatters," he said.

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