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Zimbabwe’s children risking lives to go to school

Thousands of children in Zimbabwe are risking their lives every day simply by trying to go to school.

Nearly all the affordable schools in the southern African country have closed because of its economical and political problems.

So faced with losing out on an education, many young Zimbabweans are resorting to making a dangerous trek to South Africa.

Moses Matenere was 17 when he crossed the treacherous Limpopo river that separates between Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Along the way he was attacked and robbed by a gang of armed thieves who then made him watch as they forced other men they had caught to rape young girls.

"They just rape... it happened in front of my eyes," he told BBC Radio 4’s Crossing Continents Programme.

Moses is from a well-connected family in Zimbabwe. His father is a member of the ruling Zanu-PF party and got Moses into a good school. But this was when Zimbabwe had one of the best education systems in Africa.

But hyperinflation and political violence in 2008 pushed the country to collapsing point. Zimbabwe’s education system along with its health and industry sectors are in tatters. About half of its teachers have left the country, left teaching or both because hyperinflation made their salaries worthless. Most of the country's 6,000 schools are closed and those that are left or are catering only for the few whose parents can scrape together US dollars to pay the teachers.

After being held hostage and beaten by a taxi driver on arrival in south Africa, Moses eventually found his way to the Central Methodist Church. The church provides shelter for Zimbabweans in the South African capital, Johannesburg, and about 1,000 people sleep on its floor every night. He was given a place at the church-run Albert school.

The Albert school is one of few places in South Africa that offers Zimbabwean children an education similar to the one they started in their own country.
Moses, who is now in form three, hopes one day to go back to his mother in Zimbabwe as a fully trained doctor.

"She will be proud," he said. "I have a bright future ahead of me now."

It is stories like his that drive other Zimbabwean children to take the dangerous trip south to carry on their education.

In the border town of Musina, new arrivals in South Africa sleep rough on wasteground. "It's not a nice place," said Takwant, 12, an orphan who crossed the border illegally last year. "No money for soap, no toilet, no house, no bath."
Takwant sleeps with his friends, Talent and Justin, in a dried-out drain. They survive by begging.

"I want to go to school," says Justin. "If I go to school I can change my life, I can live with cars and wives and daughters."

Hayley attribution