simelisizwe sibanda

DEPUTY MINISTER TAKES THE FALL OVER ‘TRIBAL’ HARASSMENT OF A TEACHER

By Staff Reporter  

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has fired Higher and Tertiary Education Deputy Minister Simelisizwe Sibanda following a public outcry over the minister’s acts of tribal harassment of a teacher demanding her immediate transfer over ethnicity and language issues.

During his engagement with teachers and parents at Clonnmore primary school, Sibanda allegedly used tribal sentiments to question the deployment of an Early Childhood Development (ECD) teacher, Winnet Mharadze, on June 24, 2024. Sibanda questioned why Mharadze, a Shona-speaking teacher, was teaching ECD in Bubi, Matabeleland North, where the local language is Ndebele.

He is heard fuming and referring to the teacher as uqethu (weed) that should be removed.

“Kindly transfer this teacher with immediate effect,” he said of a teacher could not speak any language besides Shona and English.

 “You know how weed should be treated when people are tilling the land,” Sibanda added.

He insisted teachers taking ECD or lower Grades at primary school level should be conversant with local languages.  

In latter interviews with the media, Sibanda defended his action saying he was implementing government policy, which states that teachers taking lower primary school classes should be familiar with local languages.

His outrage was received with serious barrage from teachers’ unions which condemned Sibanda’s conduct as ‘tribal’ .

In a statement issued this Monday, Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Martin Rushwaya said President Emmerson Mnangagwa had relieved Sibanda of his duties, without giving reasons for the dismissal.

“His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Cde Dr Emmerson D. Mnangagwa has, in terms of section 108 (1a) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, removed Simelisizwe Sibanda from Office of Deputy Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development with immediate effect,” reads the statement.

Reacting to Sibanda’s utterances, the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) had demanded an apology from the deputy minister for hate speech and derogatory tribal remarks.

PTUZ president, Takavafira Zhou expressed shock at Sibanda’s coarse behaviour.

“It is with utmost shock and disbelief that we have learnt of the rogue and thuggish behaviour of Bubi MP, Simelisizwe Sibanda, against an ECD female teacher, Winnet Mharadze, at Clonnmore Primary School on 24 June 2024. Fundamentally, Sibanda as a deputy minister must have professionally treated the teacher, rather than denigrating and dehumanising her in public. If the MP thought he had enough reasons to query the deployment of the teacher he could have raised the issue through his counterparts in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education,” he said.

“Worse still the MP seems to be ignorant of how teachers are transferred by his assumption that he or the head, Sifiso Buhlungu, has the power to summarily transfer a teacher in a manner reminiscent of the colonial master and servant scenario. As PTUZ, we want to reiterate that Zanu PF needs to reign on their rogue and errant MP who lacks educational taxonomy and professional ethics, and is a danger to society,” he added.

The union said Sibanda acted “thuggish” and needs tutorials on professionalism and Ubuntu/Unhu.

“Zimbabweans need to celebrate their unity in diversity and we expect MPs and ministers to be flag bearers of this. We don’t expect them to behave like beasts. At any rate, the difference between human beings and other animals is their ability to reason in a rational manner. But when those we expect to be more reasonable by virtue of their positions in society behave like beasts, we wonder whether they have become dogs or dogs have become MPs and ministers. We also want to deflate the minister’s colonial binary and falsehood of the Shona and Ndebele. We have more than 20 languages in Zimbabwe and the reductionist perception of just the Shona and Ndebele must be thrown outside the window. It is dangerous to be parochial or harbour feelings of the locality against feelings of nationality. It is dangerous to look for Shona weaknesses or Ndebele weaknesses, etc, behind every rubbish bin in a school,” reads the statement.

The union reminded the deputy minister that it would not allow any form of harassment to teachers to go unchallenged.

“We also want to remind the MP that he is certainly operating in unfamiliar terrain, and must forthwith never visit any school. A threat to any teacher anywhere is a threat to all teachers everywhere. We will not take the insult of Winnet Mharadze lightly and demand an unconditional apology as a matter of urgency,” he said.

Following his dismissal Sibanda then owned up and issued a public apology for his actions.

“I, Honourable Simelisizwe Sibanda, former Deputy Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, do hereby express my sincere apologies for the concerns arising from my recent actions. I understand that my approach to addressing the issue of a teacher’s language proficiency was misguided and inappropriate, leading to perceptions of tribalism.

“I want to assure the public and especially the teachers that my intention was solely to ensure that our children receive quality education, and I was concerned about the teacher’s ability to communicate effectively with her students. However, as a national leader, I should have addressed this issue through appropriate channels, avoiding public platforms that may have fueled the tribal connotations. I take full responsibility for my actions and acknowledge that my approach was wrong. I understand that my actions may have perpetuated tribal divisions, and for that, I truly apologise to the whole teaching fraternity and nation at large,” reads the apology.

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