Tag Archives: University of Zimbabwe

ZIM@ 37; WHAT INDEPENDENCE? STUDENTS ASK.

by Francis Mukora 

On the 18th April 2017, Zimbabweans celebrated 37 years of independence which came after close to a century of British colonial rule.

This year’s celebrations, held under the theme “Zim@37, Embracing ease of doing business for socio-economic development”, saw Zimbabweans from various walks of life converging at ward, district and provincial levels to celebrate yet another milestone. In Harare, the 60 000 capacity National Sports Stadium which was the venue for the national commemorations, was brimming with people who sang, danced, listened to speeches from the national leadership, including President Robert Mugabe and watched an entertaining football match pitting Zimbabwe’s two biggest clubs namely Dynamos and Highlanders.

In his address at the national commemorations in Harare, President Mugabe called for Zimbabweans, especially youths not only to enjoy, but to also jealously preserve the independence that followed the sacrifices of many lives including young men and women.

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Yet according to the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU), the apex students’ representative body in Zimbabwe, students at various tertiary institutions across the country did not have much to celebrate since they cannot fully enjoy the academic freedoms that independence should have brought to them due to arrests, assaults, suspensions, expulsions and the removal of students grants scheme and subsidies which saw tertiary education costs skyrocketing beyond the reach of the majority.

After thirty-seven (37) years of independence, access to quality education has proven to be mission impossible for the majority despite thousands of youths having paid the ultimate sacrifice in the liberation struggle fighting against a colonial system that denied them this inalienable right”, said ZINASU in their statement released on the eve of Independence Day.

Students at tertiary institutions around the country seemed to confirm the perceptions of their mother body, with most of them dismissing independence as a non-event given the current socio-economic and political malaise that the country finds itself enmeshed in.

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What independence is there to celebrate when we are struggling like this,” asked Michelle Mulingo, a final year journalism student at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST). “It means absolutely nothing and I think we were better-off colonized than now.”

Another final year political science student at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) who preferred anonymity said independence remains a myth to most “born frees” (a term used to refer to all people born after independence in 1980) as most youths cannot fully enjoy the academic freedoms. “In fact, with the harsh socio-economic conditions and the repressive political environment that we find ourselves in, independence means nothing except to a few who are enjoying its spoils.”

However, Brian Joe, a student at the Midlands State University (MSU) had a different view, arguing that youths, especially students at tertiary institutions should cherish and celebrate our independence because it is their peers who sacrificed their own lives and educational dreams to join the liberation struggle so that future generations such as ours can enjoy peace and tranquility.

The least we can do to repay them is to celebrate the independence that came out of their sweat and blood,” concluded Joe.

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WHAT HAPPENED TO STUDENT ACTIVISM IN ZIMBABWE

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.