By Francis Mukora
News in recent weeks of the signing of memorandums of understanding (MOUs) between the major opposition political parties in Zimbabwe to form a coalition which will see them fielding one candidate to battle the ruling ZANU PF party candidate President Robert Mugabe in the 2018 elections precipitated questions pertaining to whether a similar arrangement can be made within the student body politic whereby the two largest student unions, Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) and Zimbabwe College Students Union (ZICOSU) would agree to a similar arrangement of morphing into a body pursuing the collective goal of improving the welfare of students at Zimbabwe’s tertiary institutions.
“I think it will be a good move because it will ensure that student issues, which are their core mandate, become central to student politics while relegating national politics to the periphery,” said former ZINASU president Clever Bere.
Since the turn of the millennium, various critics had pointed out that student activism had lost vibrancy and effectiveness after becoming engrossed in national politics.
“They (students unions) are so much politically aligned, such that they have ceased to represent the wishes of the students but their political masters,” noted Themba Mliswa who is a Zimbabwean legislator and founder of a youth organization called Youth Advocacy for Reform and Democracy (YARD).
A year ago, his organization, YARD had taken the initiative for such a coalition as in April 2016 Mliswa Sought to Unite Students by facilitating the unification of the two rival bodies into a single union primarily seeking to serve students interests.
Both unions were reportedly warming up to the idea as then ZICOSU interim president Howard Madya declared that, “We no longer want to report to CIOs or ZANU PF or MDC and we no longer want to be controlled by any political party or politician who wants to advance their political agendas.”
The initiative seemed to excite even the ordinary students like Busi Ncube, a final year student at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) who said that such a move would show unity of purpose among their leaders and will motivate most students to take them more seriously.
However, more than a year later, nothing concrete has materialized giving credence to doomsayers who had initially dismissed such an idea as a pipedream given the allegiance of ZINASU and ZICOSU to bitter political rival, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and ZANU PF respectively.
“As long as the two student unions continue to take instructions from Harvest House and Shake Shake building, such a coalition will remain nothing more than a dream,” said political analyst and former ZINASU spokesperson, Blessing Vava.
Maybe the outcome of the 2018 elections will help to shape the future of such an envisaged coalition of ZINASU and ZICOSU because if the opposition parties coalition triumphs against ZANU PF, the students unions will be motivated to adopt the similar approach in search of victory for student activism. However, if the coalition fails, there will be no motivation for such unification.