It’s denial to criminalise student protests

THE expulsion of University of Zimbabwe medical students this week, who were protesting against the doubling of school fees, once again brought to the fore government’s detachment from the realty on the ground — raising levies at a time when the economy is imploding.

Candid Comment,Faith Zaba
fzaba@zimind.co.zw

At least 600 medical students at the tertiary institution were booted out of their halls of residence and barred from entering the campus after they protested over a recent 100% fee hike from US$450 to US$900 per semester.

Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo’s explanation on the increase rings hollow. “The fees were never raised. The students were required to pay a level commensurate with the duration of their period of study, i.e. US$450 per 15-week semester. Since the period doubled to 30 weeks, they were required to pay US$900,” he said.

Government is raising fees amid reports of massive dropouts in higher and tertiary education institutions, as students can no longer afford the fees.

This is not the first time students from the medical school have protested against fee increases by authorities. Such disturbances also blighted the UZ in January after a 35% tuition fee hike across departments.

It was heartrending to see female medical students waving placards inscribed “Girl child, tatambura (we are suffering) toihurira here (should we prostitute for fees?), #fees must fall”. Importantly, these young women are among the country’s most brilliant minds, who qualified into the programme, which requires each student to have obtained 15 points at Advanced Level.

It is mind-boggling that the UZ, which gained infamy after awarding First Lady Grace Mugabe a fake Phd, expects students to fork out US$900 when 72,3% of Zimbabweans are living below the poverty datum line, standing at between US$430 and US$574 for an average household of five and US$96 for a self-sustaining individual.

This also speaks to the callous nature of the university’s administration, which on a whim doubles fees when the economy is on its knees, characterised by a debilitating liquidity crunch, capacity utilisation of less than 50%, company closures, massive job losses and unemployment rate of over 90%.

In the first quarter of this year alone, the Retrenchment Board revealed that 817 workers lost their jobs through retrenchment, putting into perspective the alarming levels of unemployment.

Instead of addressing their concerns, the university resorted to kicking them out, without considering students are preparing for exams. This demonstrated the heavy handedness and insensitivity of UZ authorities. The decision was rightly rescinded by the High Court.

It is shocking that the UZ can without remorse confer fake degrees, but dismally fails to address genuine students’ plight.

The latest fees hike could once again sound the death knell for an education sector tottering on the brink of collapse, emanating from President Robert Mugabe’s misrule and glaring incompetence.

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