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ZIMBABWE: Economic crisis keeps universities closed

Zimbabwe's public universities have failed to re-open due to an escalating economic crisis, student unions have confirmed. Most universities were supposed to open last month or early this month, but lecturers have either gone on strike or there are no funds for operations.

In an interview with University World News Clever Bere, president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu), confirmed the delay in re-opening, saying only one institution out of 11 state universities was open. Only Bindura University had opened, said Bere, a student at the University of Zimbabwe, the country's oldest institution.

In July, lecturers at state-owned institutions of higher learning wrote to President Robert Mugabe warning him that universities faced closure due to a number of factors including the brain drain and absenteeism by staff, due to low salaries and poor working conditions. Zimbabwe has the highest inflation in the world - currently nearly 11 million per cent - forcing lecturers to demand that their eroding salaries be raised to equal the average at other universities in the region, and that they be paid twice a month.

The lecturers wrote to Mugabe, who is also chancellor of all state universities: "The current situation in state universities is a sorry one. Since June 2008, as employees we have failed to come to work because, among other things, the salaries that we get are simply not enough to cover transport costs. Indeed the pay has at times been enough for transport for two days only and this has de-motivated us."

A senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mugabe had not met the lecturers' demands put to him in writing, or met with academic leaders. "Maybe he is busy with the talks," he speculated.

Mugabe is locked in power-sharing talks with the Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who beat him in a 29 March presidential poll but pulled out of a run-off vote because of a campaign of terror against opposition supporters. Mugabe obviously won the one-man run-off poll.

Bere said there was speculation that universities would open at the end of September but that was yet to be confirmed. "We were told that we would be informed of new opening dates. All state universities should be open. The hostels are also closed," he complained.
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