Zimbabwean lecturers and students are divided over the rolling-out of a national petition campaign aimed at gathering more than two million signatures to pressure Western countries to lift targeted sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle.
The European Union, United States, Australia and others slapped leaders of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party with targeted sanctions in 2003 in protest against his repressive policies and a bloody 2002 poll that the then opposition Movement for democratic Change (MDC) and international electoral observers claimed was rigged.
Since then there have been periodic extensions of the targeted sanctions, which include an asset freeze and military embargo.
The new petition initiative has provoked disagreement among academics, with one group saying sanctions must be lifted and the other saying they should stay in place.
In February 2009, Mugabe formed a unity government with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, following the signing of an agreement that said both parties would campaign against targeted sanctions, with the new government implementing electoral, media and other reforms as well as ceasing human rights violations as some of the conditions for the coalition.
But two years later the US and EU have declined to lift the sanctions with Australia going a step further by deporting the children of some of the country's leaders studying at its universities, notably those of reserve bank governor Gideon Gono and police commissioner Augustine Chihuri.
Earlier this month Mugabe held a petition campaign launch that was boycotted by Tsvangirai, who is now Prime Minister, on the grounds that it was a party issue had not been approved by cabinet. Newspapers reported that residents in the capital Harare had been forced to attend the launch, with people on their way to work diverted to the venue and markets closed.
The chair of the anti-sanctions petition committee John Nkomo, who is also Zimbabwe's Vice President, told the gathering in a speech aired live that some lecturers had pledged to sign the petition.
But John Makumbe, a prominent commentator and lecturer in the University of Zimbabwe's political science department, told University World News that sanctions must remain. He disputed Mugabe's claims that the sanctions were not targeted but were hurting the whole country, saying only those on the list are feeling the pinch.
"No, no sanctions must not be lifted. The conditions which caused the slapping of targeted sanctions are still prevailing - human rights violations are continuing, there is still violence, the rule of law is not being observed," Makumbe said. "Sanctions should stay, petition or no petition, until there is meaningful progress towards democracy."
Meanwhile Joseph Kurebwa, head of political science at the University of Zimbabwe, said in a separate interview that sanctions should be removed. He disagreed with Makumbe's assertion that only those on the list have been affected.
"Sanctions have had a negative impact on the economic successes of this country," he said. There were no credit facilities and Zimbabwe had become a pariah state with low credit ranking, a "shattered" image and people unwilling to do business with Zimbabweans.
"So yes, sanctions should be lifted as a matter of urgency," said Kurebwa.
The largest student representative body, the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu), said sanctions must remain in place until far-reaching reforms are instituted.
But on 2 March, Zimbabwe Television reported that a rival student body wanted sanctions lifted. It said Zimbabwe Congress of Students Unions president Gift Wezara had argued that the education sector had experienced an exodus of staff and sanctions had "induced challenges", which is why they should be lifted.
Former student leader, Promise Mkwananzi, also chipped in, saying sanctions should stay and reforms should be the only condition for lifting them. He alluded to the removal of 35 people from the list by the EU last month, which he attributed to the individuals having shown signs of reforming.
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