Okavango and Ngamiland students reopened schools on Tuesday with no word from the government on whether they would be exempted from paying school fees after the outbreak of Foot and Mouth which has impoverished most of their parents whose livelihoods are dependent on cattle sales.
Late last year when the Minister of Agriculture, Johnny Swartz, addressed residents of the two areas about the outbreak of the disease, the residents made requests that they be exempted from paying school fees for their secondary school children.
This, they said, was because the movement of cattle within the districts had been banned making it impossible for them to sell their cattle to get money for school fees.
Several calls to some residents of Maun early this week confirmed that there has not yet been a response on the issue from the government and that some parents are currently living in fear that their children might be thrown out of school.
“When my child left for school early on Tuesday, he asked me when I will give him money for school fees and I had no answer. I just looked at him not knowing what to tell him and it hurts me very much”, said one Obonye Rametsi.
Rametsi said that in the past when there were no restrictions on cattle movement, he always paid school fees on time and that he always made sure that he paid all the term money by the end of the term. This time around, he said, he did not know what to do to get his child to school.
“I am currently helpless and just basing my hope on the goodwill of teachers that they will not send our children back home for failure to pay school fees because that will spell doom for them,” he said.
Another parent, Lesedi Monyani, said that he is surprised that the government is taking such a long time in answering their request.
“The outbreak of the disease was an emergency as such one would have thought that it would be given attention and important issues like payment of school fees addressed by now,” lamented Monyani. “This, unfortunately, has up to now not happened and we are watching our children going to school not knowing whether or not they will end the day in school or be returned for failure to pay fees.”
Another man who used to make a living by skinning cattle after they had been slaughtered, Thomo Senewamang, said that he was also deeply concerned that he would not be able to provide for his children as cattle are no longer skinned in the Council abattoir in Maun.
Senewamang said that his children go to primary school and do not pay school fees like those in secondary school but that he has to provide food for them as well as school uniforms which he is now finding difficult to do as there are no cattle to skin at the abattoir.
Early in the 80s there was an outbreak of the disease in the two areas and school going children in the two districts were exempted from paying school fees.
All high ranking officials at the Ministry of Education, including Education Minister Jacob Nkate, were not available for comment as they were said to be still on leave.