Origins of Student Politics

By Costa Nkomo

Higher learning institutions are unique intellectual houses of thought that have undisputedly become a breeding ground for human right activists who have become a headache to the contemporary world of politics. Student politics  in Zimbabwe started at the  then University of  Rhodesia  as the University of Zimbabwe was known before it was renamed in 1980 and it echoed unimaginable  extensive African political movements in the Southern part of the continent.  

On the eve of the Liberation struggle students were romped into the revolutionary movement with little or no space of disobedience. Some writers have noted that students at the University of Rhodesia failed to develop a clear political strategy that linked the rural struggle to an urban political mobilization, in the townships, factories and at the university. This alone paralysed the student union and consequently playing a passive role in the liberation struggle.

However, a few students decamped from the university into exile and joined the guerrilla struggle.

The independence dawn ushered in a new political landscape as university students emerged as the most formidable stewards of the interests of the ruling regime. This symbiotic relationship was short lived because of different political and economic reasons.  Among the cause to the disruption of this relationship as contained in the history of the country, was the genocide era that subjected residents in Matebeleland and some parts of Midlands to inhuman atrocities by the North Korean trained army known as the Fifth Brigade.  Since then, Matebeleland region has never been  a  darling  to the  ruling government  as evidenced by the  failure of  the  ruling government  to  win elections particularly in Bulawayo where  Zanu PF is  yet to taste a  win  since 1980.

 Fast forward to the 1990s, higher learning institution student politics bred out unarguable a group of outstanding politicians but not limited to Nelson Chamisa, Raymond Majongwe, Tendai Biti, Munyaradzi Musekiwa, Charlton Hwende et al who became the prominent figures of the Morgan Tsvangirai led Movement for Democratic Change right away from its birth in 1999.  These figures are kept in the political history books for their arousing spirit particularly a figure like Chamisa who became a legislator at the age of 25. 

Unlike those students who faced the ruthlessness of Ian Smith’s  government, the aforementioned personalities were subjected to unfriendly political environment in an independent Zimbabwe. In short ,  it has been alleged  that they sought  to install  a  regime change using a Western political template which antagonised President Robert Mugabe’s  legacy.

Apart from Tendai Biti et al, student politics has lost relevance to the political landscape in Zimbabwe. In the last  decade, in memory of student  political figures like Lovemore Chinoputsa, Clever Bere  et al have  all  gone  hiding  into a political abyss  or they  have  thrown  themselves into  political dustbins. Thus, Chamisa  and company remain  role models  for  student leaders who  seem to go against  the  ruling government for  best  reasons  known to  themselves.

Lately, student leaders like Shadowlite Ndou,  Rodwell Nyika et al have been giving hope to the student’s community. However, the political disease that infected Bere et al seems to have grabbed them at once. Their  quick  disappearance from  political scene raise eyebrows  whether  were they  seriously  targeting  to  liberating the  academic as they  purported on  the  eve of their way  to  office.  Of all these comrades, only Nyika remains on the scene although his prowess is yet to be tested.  Despite his anti-government antics , the young academic  has founded  Zimbabwe Coalition for Unemployed Graduates (ZCUG) a movement that at  one point became vocal in  asking  the ruling  government to  honour its  promises made in the  run  up  to  the  harmonised 2013 national  elections  where the  opposition parties lost  to President  Mugabe dismally.

Where are the post-independence student leaders to remind the present student leadership that representing students is not about self enriching, hatred and immorality.? These student leaders of today  should strongly be urged to  learn from student activism  that lived before and  soon  after  independence. Student activism that   poses as a political party  at university or any other higher learning  institutions is not only irrelevant but its an evidence of  how poisonous the present generation is at leadership positions.












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