REVELATIONS that Zimbabwean students studying in Russia, under President Robert Mugabe’s presidential and national scholarship programme, are wallowing in poverty makes sad reading.
Editor’s Memo,Faith Zaba
They have gone for more than a year without receiving financial support, driving the female scholars into prostitution.
This has left the president of Zimbabwean students based in Russia, Hubert Nyabadza, with no choice but to send out an SOS via Twitter to Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo.
In a touching and passionate plea this week, Nyabadza said they are in dire straits.
“We are starving Sir, some of us want to go back home. Mr (Chris) Mushohwe (Minister of National Scholarships in the Office of the President) hasn’t done anything about it. Please inform him about this matter please if you can.
“We are starving and some of my fellow students might be expelled because of unpaid debts. We are never given money. We don’t know who to talk to, the ones we talk to always tell us there is no money in government…”
Another female student lamented that many girls were resorting to prostitution to survive.
“I have proof that lots of girls have resorted to prostitution and when I say proof, I mean actual video footage of some of the girls at night.”
The Russian situation mirrors the plight of students in and out of the country.
In Zimbabwe, quite a number of students have been battling to find accommodation, with those from out of town squatting like rats. In Harare’s Mt Pleasant suburb, as many as 16 University of Zimbabwe students share a standard bedroom after failing to secure accommodation on campus, making their lives miserable.
Government has basically withdrawn support to students in tertiary institutions.
They also battle to raise money for tuition and general upkeep, with some resorting to crime and commercial sex.
The situation is throwing female students into an unenviable position to either sell their bodies to survive or refuse and starve. It is heartrending to hear stories of young girls across the country — at the UZ, Midlands State University, Great Zimbabwe University and National University of Science and Technology — engaging in prostitution for survival. This is worsened by corruption and lack of transparency — hallmarks of the national scholarship programme over the years.
While students in Russia are in a dreadful situation, those at home are not better off. The difference is that those are starving in a foreign land, while those here are doing so in Mugabe’s backyard.
What is even more disappointing is that Zimbabwe used to boast of one of the best qualitative education systems in Africa.
According to the 2017 African University Ranking, the UZ, once a centre of academic excellence attracting scholars from across the region, while also highly-ranked in research and publication, was rated number 65, a drop from 44th position scored by the University Web Ranking in 2014.
Education has been underfunded and destroyed by corruption.
As students struggle to eke out a living, the patron of the scholarship programme, Mugabe, is squandering millions of dollars gallivanting around the globe. The nonagenarian leader spent more than US$50 million in foreign trips last year, more than double the US$23 million which had been allocated for that purpose.
A fraction of that money, which has brought nothing more than a pile of useless MOUs, would have supported students in and outside the country, than subjecting them to destitution.
Mugabe is currently in Uruguay attending the World Health Organisation (WHO) conference on communicable diseases, while his wife, Grace, left the country on Sunday going to Russia, but was expected to stop over in China.
Just last month, Mugabe splurged over US$10 million when he took a 70-member delegation, including his wife, son Bellarmine Chatunga and close relatives to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
The tragedy is sharply brought into focus when one considers the extravagance of Mugabe’s sons Ballarmine and Robert Jr, who have earned a reputation for partying with reckless abandon, wasting taxpayers’ funds, in stark contrast to the impoverished students.
The students’ plight yet again exposes Mugabe’s alarming insensitivity and incompetence.