UZ situation, a mere tip of the iceberg

UZ demonstrations

THE University of Zimbabwe (UZ) hiked its tuition fees last week, sparking protests from students at the institution of higher learning. The students have since resolved to boycott lectures until the fees are reviewed downwards.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP)’s anti-riot squad on Monday bulldozed into the UZ premises, where they reportedly forced students out of hostels to lecture rooms.

All these events point to a bigger problem, not at the UZ per se, but in this land called Zimbabwe.

For the UZ to come to the decision to increase fees by 1 000%, to as much as $500 000 per semester — up from about $50 000 depending on one’s programme, the institution must have found itself without choice but to make the painful decision.

And for the students to come to the conclusion not to attend lectures points to yet another painful decision.

The ZRP’s anti-riot squad’s involvement by thrusting themselves in the fray and forcing students to attend lectures confused the whole issue, and is hardly the best solution to the real crisis facing both the UZ and the students. The action of the police speaks to greater underlying challenges.

In fact, the situation at the UZ is a mere microcosm of the problems bedevelling the Zimbabwean economy. While we have been hopeful that the recent measures by monetary authorities to stem inflation and other underlying economic ills would save us from such hikes as the one instituted at the UZ, the fee hike is a disheartening reminder that the country’s dire economic situation is scarcely abating.

If anything, a fee increase of 1 000% by the UZ, a government institution for that matter, is telling.

What are the underlying reasons behind the increase?

In the golden old days, fees barely changed for years on end at primary, secondary and tertiary institutions; and people could budget years ahead for their children’s education.

This has been, however, unheard of in our economy in decades. It is worrying for the country to keep failing to do the right thing for such a very long time. And for a country that is replete with professors, including from the UZ, to fail to solve its economic problems is quite buffling.

And the answer has always been that Zimbabwe’s economic fundamentals are all wrong. Are they so wrong? The answer lies in what played out at UZ on Monday, where the police poked their nose into a business that did not concern them and left the poor students traumatised for no apparent reason.

So it is the same with Zimbabwe’s economic situation, whereby politics always crops up in monetary and fiscal policies, which ends up affecting economic stability. At the end of the day, the macro economic instability affects innocent institutions and people such as the UZ and its students.

The intrusion of the anti-riot police in the UZ fees crisis exposes how politics has always muddied economic issues in the country.

The police were not supposed to be there, unless there was a threat of violence; even if the threat was there, the police were supposed to be on standby, watching from a distance.

The same is expected at the macro level, politics should be watching from the terraces if Zimbabwe entertains any hopes of getting its economic fundamentals right for the good of not only UZ and its students, but all of us.

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