By Tinashe Chimedza
THE recent deplorable action, in Mutare and Harare, by the police to arrest, harass and detain members of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) is an action by a regime that is against the wall. It is an act that will hasten the fall of this ca
This action represents a very calculated and deliberate attack on the rights of every citizen which has become the business of this government. It is common knowledge that the strategy of government has been to hunt and haunt student leaders but it is not working. The members and current leadership of the national students union must be commended for mobilising at a time when government has developed and sharpened its tools of repression.
Zinasu has remained a steadfast and radical student union, challenging and exposing the current regime for what it is, a vampire regime which is in a murderous discord with the values and principles that informed our liberation struggle. It is on public record that the government has tried to liquidate the students’ movement by infiltrations, forming splinter unions, exiling other student leaders and expelling others. The government and the intelligence have sponsored splinter unions like the Zimbabwe Progressive Students Union and the Nationalist Students Union but they have fallen by the way side because they lacked the support and idealism which are the cornerstones of a progressive student movement.
The students remain alert, focused and mobilising for a decisive and definitive fight with this regime. Many students continue to rally behind the national students union because they are fulfilling an obvious duty which is to be the vanguard for a new and better Zimbabwe where prosperity, democracy and opportunities are open to all. After years of cracking down on Zinasu the government must be shocked by the number of students who continue to answer the call by the students union to national duty.
The reason why Zinasu continues in the good fight is because the students union is a serious organisation. There is no time for empty slogans. From time to time there may be brilliant leaders but democratic processes demand that when their term is up they go. One shudders to imagine what would happen at a student union congress if one were to suggest that their terms of office be renewed because “we are not in power”! It would be a dead motion.
There are lessons to be learned from the Zimbabwean students’ movement. When your term is up, you might prevaricate, refuse to call congress or even postpone it via an intricate web of lies but the dictates of the constitution will bury such ambitions. The students union is filled with young men and women of great fortitude and diligence who are carrying out the most needed national service in defence of the right to education and a better life for all in Zimbabwe.
Over the years Zinasu has been accused of being “too political” and being “partisan”, including being dismissed by Prof Jonathan Moyo as “a bunch of hooligans”. At one time we sat in his offices at Munhumutapa as he told us that if we wanted to meet Robert Mugabe we must come through the party structures. We sat there, shocked that this professor of political science was suggesting that the only way to change government policy was by making Zinasu an appendage of Zanu PF, buy party cards and pay homage to the dear leader.
The fact that the students’ movement has become heavily involved in the democratisation struggle is not a coincidence; it was a consequence of debate and resolution. When such decisions were made the timorous exited.
The students union has never hidden the fact that it is a political movement, because primarily it defends and acts in the interests of its constituency, the students. That process always involves questions of resources and policy, how then can the national students’ movement be apolitical?
The decision to join the National Constitutional Assembly, for example, was as a consequence of the fact that student rights, like any other citizen’s rights, were being trampled upon by the regime. A democratic constitution, it is still hoped, will provide the right to education and this is what Zinasu has been fighting for through the NCA and other groups like the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.
In 2001, when Zinasu was awarded the International Students Peace Prize, in the witness of Nobel Prize Laureate and now Prime Minister of East Timor, Jose Manuel Ramos Horta, it was because of the union’s relentless commitment to “the right of ordinary students to be able to access higher education and that the universities still be an arena of free discussion and opinion-making”.
That commitment has not wavered; that is the reason why the current Zinasu wrote an open letter to Mugabe in May this year, commenting that “to increase public education fees well beyond the reach of most Zimbabweans at this time is to punish the economically weakest members of society”.
As such Zinasu is deliberately a political creature, a creation of consensus which acts to enhance the national interest by making sure that the education sector is guided by suitable policies. This remains the guiding principle of the students union; that the political, social, cultural and economic leadership of the country is too important a matter to be left in the hands of Zanu PF alone.
The student movement has sought to increase access to education in Zimbabwe and to ensure that it does not become a preserve of the elite. In 1997 when the UZ was closed it was because students had refused to accept 50% fees increases. In June 2001 when there were continuous protests in over 30 colleges the sticking point was the same — that education must be accessed by all. Education, research and innovation are the bedrock of any country and they drive economic transformation.
By arresting the students and their leaders government is only accelerating its own downfall. That arrest is another word on the epitaph of this callous regime.
The renewal of the Zimbabwe struggle will always be in its youths and students who refuse to be witnesses to the destruction of their birthright. This is why in small print the national student union motto reads “struggle is our birthright”. By supporting the ZCTU mass action the students are doing a national duty in the interest of resolving the national crisis and they deserve our support.
* Chimedza is a member of the International Youth Parliament Australia.