Tag Archives: Student Activism

Talk of Unification of Rival Student Unions

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.



By Francis Mukora

“The situation has changed significantly in this age as systematic arrests, suspensions and expulsions send a discouraging message to students while their expelled leaders then find it very difficult to organise and coordinate from outside campuses.”

Student activism used to be a vibrant pressure group which could influence socio-economic and political dynamics at almost all levels of the Zimbabwean society. However, over the past decade, students voice in key national processes has been fading and nowadays, the once popular “Ahoy Union” chant is no longer inspiring to students at most tertiary institutions, including the National University of Science and Technology (NUST).

Various theories have been suggested in attempts to explain the declining fortunes of student activism in Zimbabwe. The first perspective analyses the dwindling vibrancy of student activism within the national political context. This perspective argues that the birth of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), arguably the most popular opposition party in the post-independence era, in the late 1990s marked the beginning of the slow death of student activism in Zimbabwe. This perspective argues that the MDC took over the space of student activism as the most influential pressure group in the country. From this stage onwards, the argument goes; student activism was assimilated into opposition politics to a point where the two seemed to be one and most student leaders went into the structures of the opposition party. This created divisions amongst the membership and leadership of students unions to a point where some students decided to be apathetic and thus student activism was severely crippled. Thus the dwindling fortunes of the opposition MDC also began to be mirrored by a corresponding decline in student activism exuberance.

Another theory argues that the socio-economic malaise that has been afflicting the country since the late 1990s has had a debilitating effect on student activism. This theory argues that with economically parents now bearing full responsibility for fees payment and the entire upkeep of their children since government stopped the students grants system around 2006, the students themselves now feel indebted to stay away from “troubles” such as student activism which would put their parents’ investments to waste if they were to be suspended or expelled. In the long run, this has weakened student activism and as they no longer have a robust voice to effectively engage authorities at both institutional and national levels for solutions their concerns.

Former NUST Students Representative Council (SRC) and Zimbabwe National Association of Students Union (ZINASU) president, Clever Bere thinks that there has been a change in conditions over the past two decades which has also significantly affected student activism in Zimbabwe.

Back then, the democratic space was a bit open and student leaders found it easier to organize”, said Bere. “The situation has changed significantly in this age as systematic arrests, suspensions and expulsions send a discouraging message to students while their expelled leaders then find it very difficult to organise and coordinate from outside campuses.”

However, a different perspective argues that contemporary student activism has shifted from the confrontational tactics which made it popular in the previous years to non-confrontational engagement with authorities and this shift in approach is being confused as disfunctionality. Whether this is true or false remains a subject of debate, but what remains indisputable is the fact that the chant “Ahoy macomrades” can no longer galvanize students in the manner that it did say at the turn of the millennium.