MORE than 60 University of Zimbabwe (UZ) students were on Tuesday arrested after they clashed with riot police while protesting against payment of fees in foreign currency.
According to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) the students were demonstrating against a US$400 examination fee that they must pay by February 11.
â€œAt least 60 students were arrested and detained at Avondale Police Station, Harare,â€ the lawyers said. â€œZLHR was able to secure the release of five students on medical grounds; the remainder of the group is slowly being released by the police.â€
Police said they would prefer charges against at least three students.
During the demonstration some students were seriously assaulted by the police, the ZLHR said.
â€œZLHR is disgusted by the continued use of violence by the police force against defenceless citizens, and the arbitrary arrests, detention and subsequent release of detainees without charge, meant simply to harass students and prevent them from exercising their fundamental right to assembly and expression,â€ the lawyers said.
Many of the students, according to the ZLHR, were from middle-class, low-income and underprivileged families in Zimbabwe and could not raise the US$400 examination fees demanded by the university.
Moreover, the lawyers said, the students were expected to pay between US$1 000 and US$1 800 next semester.
The ZLHR said it was unfortunate that while government was allowing the UZ to charge students in foreign currency, many of those required to raise the fees were civil servants whom the government still pays in Zimbabwe dollars.
A student at the university who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent said several cars were stoned and students beaten up by police.
He said: â€œAlmost all students took part in the protest and will continue to protest as long as everyone continues to feel threatened by the extremely high fees as our parents are nurses, teachers, police officers and soldiers and they do not earn foreign currency.â€
Meanwhile the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) failed to open its doors to students for the 2009 semester this week after students failed to register because of what they termed â€œunjustifiedâ€ fees demanded by the institution.
Initially, the university was supposed to open on January 27, but the date has to be postponed to Tuesday after only a few students registered for the new semester.
It has since emerged that those who registered were first years who were threatened with withdrawal of places.
Students at the university are supposed to pay US$520 for a semester.
Sources at Nustâ€™s accounts department said only 92 students out of more than 5 000 had paid their fees by Wednesday, raising fears that the university may not open at all.
â€œOnly a few students have paid their fees, and I donâ€™t think the university is going to open as scheduled.
Right now only three students in the Faculty of Communications and Information Sciences have paid their fees, and other departments havenâ€™t received any student at all and so it is hard for us to open,â€ said one of the sources.
The sources said the University Council held a meeting last week and resolved that students who could not afford to pay the full amount will have to pay 65% of the total before being allowed to attend classes.
The director of information and communication at Nust, Felix Moyo, however, said students were still paying at the university.
â€œStudents are currently paying their fees and registration will be through by the end of week. I urge all students who have not paid their fees to do so before the end of this week as lectures will begin any time,â€ Moyo said.
BY LUCIA MAKAMURE AND HENRY MHARA