ZAMBIA: Protesting students shot and wounded

Two Zambian university students were shot and wounded by police during protests aimed at forcing the government to increase student allowances. Some students were arrested, police confirmed. The demonstrations at two public institutions - the University of Zambia and Copperbelt University - followed industrial action by lecturers who are demanding better pay.

Police spokesperson Bonny Kapeso said the two University of Zambia students, Samuel Nasilele and Chewe Chishala, had been shot by stray bullets. The second-year school of education students were in a stable condition in hospital.

Students started attacking police officers and stoning motorists, and officers responded by firing into the air, Kapeso said. A law enforcement agent was injured in the skirmishes: "The shooting incident is being investigated and if any officer is found to have acted unlawfully, the law will take its course," he added.

Zambian students are demanding a 100% increase in meal allowances, from 300,000 Zambian Kwacha (US$90) to 600,000 Kwacha per month. University of Zambia Student Union president Solomon Ngambi told University World News that students wanted rises in meal, project and book allowances.

The Zambian government has rejected the students demands, saying the allowances they receive are in some instances higher than those offered to the country's workers. Despite the unrest, no universities have been closed.

An editorial in a state-owned newspaper that normally reflects government thinking, The Times of Zambia, appeared to justify the police decision to open fire on unarmed students. The newspaper said student demands had "reached proportions bordering on the unreasonable".

"It is partly [because of] the exasperation that people feel about the behaviour of the students that things are escalating to the point where police officers were found to have fired live bullets into the crowd of students," the paper commented. The worldwide norm is that higher education is not free, it argued, and this should be understood by students.

Poverty is widespread in Zambia and government bursaries are provided so deserving students are not denied a university education because their parents cannot avoid fees. But, The Times added, "this does not mean the government has sufficient funds for the programme. Apart from funding the bursaries scheme, it also has to finance university operations, including staff remuneration".

Ngambi, the student leader, said students supported the industrial action taken by lecturers and that the government had promised an additional 44 billion Kwacha in supplementary funds to meet their demands.