By Charlton C Tsodzo
WHEN elephants fight it is the grass that suffers.
No matter how ancient this adage might sound, its dail
y-rejuvenated relevance is without doubt, especially at the once mighty and idolised institution of higher learning, the University of Zimbabwe.
With staff, both academic and non-academic, continuing to fight with the powers-that-be for better remuneration and packages, it is the students who have borne the brunt of the impasse and found themselves caught in an unenviable situation. Lecturers have resolved not to teach, the non-academic staff has resolved not to open up the library, laboratories and other vital facilities until their grievances have been addressed. It therefore doesn’t take much to discern the sort of predicament the poor students find themselves in as they face yet another possible forced break.
Strikes, protests and demonstrations by staff at the institution have of late become daily bread and the consequences on the students are far-reaching. Unlike the student type of protests that involve marches and the destruction of property, staff protests have tended to cause more of intellectual damage than anything else as the students’ education is compromised. With the lecturers having lost all enthusiasm to teach, thanks to their demoralising salaries, students have been left at the mercy of half-hearted teaching methodologies that lead to the production of half-baked graduates. Practical courses, study components critical for equipping students with vital hands-on experience required in industry have become skeletons of what they used to be owing to the disturbances that have led to a diminishing of the number of field trips, lab sessions and other practical forms of learning.
Schedules for student attachments and internships which also provide students with practical industrial experience have been severely affected. It is also saddening to note how the UZ has become so exam-oriented that after the long forced lay-off, crash programmes are implemented whereby lecturers basically teach topics on which exams are based. What sort of aftermath then does this lead to except inevitably a college graduate who has passed examinations (and oftentimes quite superbly for the good crammer) but almost has no real sustainable knowledge of what he/she learnt? Are you then still wondering why most of these graduates are performing way under-par in industry?
As the students wait patiently for issues to be resolved they would be having nothing else to occupy themselves with except spending their meagre handouts from home as well as government pay-outs. In no time at all these monies will be exhausted and hunger and mass starvation take over. The next fated occurrence will be strikes and demonstrations for payouts with the public labelling these impoverished souls hooligans and vagabonds. I wouldn’t be so judgemental myself.
It is unfortunate that the students are receiving the majority of the pricks in this “prick-me-and-I’ll-prick-you too” kind of struggle between the university staff and the powers-that-be. They certainly are screaming out the loudest and nobody seems to care at all. They are the ones with their hands on the dirty end of the stick always!
The long and short of the story is that something has to be done about the salaries impasse without delay. In fact, it should have been done yesterday! The institution itself stands to lose what is left of its already battered image if it continues churning out under-equipped and under-performing graduates. And to think such people are supposed to be the future technocrats and corporate leaders of Zimbabwe is in itself as catastrophic as it is mind-boggling.
Surely what is taking place at the once mighty institution by and large carries with it potently disastrous present and future socio-economic implications for the nation and a lot more is at stake than meets the eye.
* Charlton Tsodzo can be reach-ed through email : firstname.lastname@example.org.