THE South African embassy in Harare is inundated with thousands of applications from prospective Zimbabwean students seeking permits to enable them to pursue tertiary education in that country.
By Herbert Moyo
In what could be interpreted as an indictment of Zimbabwe’s much-vaunted but waning education system, prospective students have been making a bee-line for the embassy in their hundreds, reviving the long snaking queues reminiscent of the hyperinflation era of 2007-2008 when Zimbabweans sought visas to South Africa to escape a socio-economic crisis.
Over a week-long period, the Zimbabwe Independent observed daily queues of approximately 500 people, some of whom came as early as 2am hoping to be among the maximum 100 people that the embassy attends to each day.
At this rate, this would mean about 500 applications are processed over a five-day working week from Monday to Friday.
Efforts to obtain official comment from the South African embassy were futile as their phones went unanswered.
“We only take in 100 people per day,” shouted one embassy official on Wednesday morning as she handed out small pieces of paper with numbers to the fortunate ones. “The rest of you will have to come tomorrow very early to stand any chance of being served.”
Twenty-two-year-old Tsungai Dube, an accounts student at the University of Johannesburg who says the application process was a “simple walk-in” exercise in 2011 because there were no queues when she first applied then, expressed shock at the long queue at the embassy.
“It used to be a simple walk-in exercise when I first applied,” Tsungai said. “There wouldn’t be anybody and I would just walk straight in. The visa would take only three working days to be issued.”
Other prospective students said various factors were pushing them to go to South Africa including the lack of reasonable prospects for employment upon completion of their studies. Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate stands at over 80%.
“Much as we are patriotic, there’s no point in studying here when you cannot be guaranteed of jobs upon completion of studies,” said Thulani Moyo, a prospective law student.
“At least South Africa has a bigger labour market and we can increase our chances of getting jobs if we have South African degrees.”
Other factors cited include the high entry requirements at Zimbabwean universities, limited choices of degree programmes as well as what students described as “out-dated degrees”.
The University of Zimbabwe in Harare and the Midlands State University in Gweru are the only two universities offering law studies yet South Africa has more than 20 such institutions.
Moreover Zimbabwe has stringent entry requirements, demanding three “A” grade passes from Advanced Level subjects to study law and medicine at the UZ, while two Es suffice in most South African institutions to study law.
“The UZ is still offering archaic degree programmes like the Bachelor of Arts General which cannot even qualify one for post-graduate study and are only acceptable in the low-paying teaching profession,” said Margaret Shumba, another prospective student.
Another student permit hopeful Thandiwe Makoni said: “The fees are almost the same but the cost of living is cheaper in South Africa than here.”
Last year’s World University Web Ranking placed Zimbabwean universities relatively low in its rankings.
The top five African rankings are occupied by South African universities with the University of Cape Town first ahead of the University of South Africa, University of Pretoria, University of Stellenbosch and University of Witwatersrand.
Zimbabwe’s highest ranked UZ comes in at a lowly 91 in the top 100 rankings.