As students across Ireland band together to revolt against the threatened termination of free and accessible third level education for all, students in Zimbabwe are uniting under an altogether more serious banner, Dearbhail O’Crowley investigates.
Over 50 students have been arrested, 15 have been tortured, ten expelled and two threatened with death so far this year during Zimbabwe’s chaotic election period.
Five student leaders from the University of Zimbabwe have been suspended indefinitely. 19 students from Bindura were arrested for demonstrating against the new fees imposed at the end of last year.
The University of Zimbabwe has always been a hotbed of anti-government protests and riot police have become a common sight there during this presidential campaign.
Not to mention the fact that several institutions have devolved into chaos in recent weeks due to student protests against fee hikes and as President of the Zimbabwe National Students’ Union, Clever Bere put it “as for the elections, Zanu-PF went on to declare results which all of us know are not a true reflection of the will of people as expressed on 29 March.”
Zimbabwe’s inflation has soared to nearly 1000 per cent over the past five years, putting everything from school fees to hospital visits out of reach of much of the population.
Meanwhile, human rights lawyers worldwide have slammed what has been referred to as the “continued harassment of students” and have called on the authorities to stop using violence against young people.
With the country in turmoil, the economy shattered and death tolls rising daily, last week’s step towards peace has made an immense difference to all its inhabitants. The power sharing agreement signed in Harare is undoubtedly a major step forward for Zimbabwe, but it does not conclusively resolve the country’s deep political crisis.
Activism by students in Zimbabwe has been marred by the Zanu PF regime’s ruthlessness which has seen students shot to death, brutalised and arrested for demonstrating against increasing costs of education, privatisation and corruption
Activism by students in Zimbabwe has been marred by the Zanu PF regime’s ruthlessness which has seen students shot to death, brutalised and arrested for demonstrating against increasing costs of education, privatisation and corruption. Students also faced violent repercussions to stands made against the inept governmental policy, which has resulted in ever-deteriorating economic conditions.
It is increasingly evident that the Students’ Solidarity Trust will not wait with for change. McDonald Lewanika, the president of the SST has echoed Zimbabwe’s new Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai’s recent comments, claiming he does not trust long-time President Robert Mugabe, and will wait for evidence of change before believing anything the former dictator declares.
The students of Zimbabwe have supported the opposition from the outset continuing a tradition of student opposition to Mugabe’s rule since 1990.
It is also interesting to note that many senior opposition figures were once student leaders or activists themselves. Clever Bere has declared that students had no option but to support the opposition because Mugabe’s policies were devastating the country. He brushed aside concern about bias in relation to the election declaring “there are people who are killing our compatriots and destroying the economy. We have an oppressor and we have someone who is on the side of the people. It is only natural that we side with Tsvangirai.”
Bere stated student leaders were aware of the dangers of opposing Mugabe, but circumstances demanded that they make a stand. “After someone is murdered the question that comes to the mind of every pro-democracy activist is ‘Who is next?’ However, the sentiment among people on the ground is that Mugabe can kill revolutionaries but he cannot kill the revolution.”
While questions remain over whether the power-sharing deal can work in practice, many are confident that it will allow Zimbabwe to address the economic meltdown which has led to the country’s economic collapse creating the world’s highest inflation rate, chronic shortages of foreign currency and food, skyrocketing unemployment and widespread hunger.
Either way there is no doubt that the student population of Zimbabwe will be on tenterhooks to see whether the distribution of power between President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, can save the country from economic collapse and widespread famine or whether this goodwill agreement will simply devolve into an institutional mess.