ZIMBABWE: Students look east

Zimbabwean students are turning to Asian universities following Australia's decision to deport eight youngsters whose fathers are accused of propping up the government of President Robert Mugabe - and more students might yet be deported. The United States has also said five students involved in "anti-democratic" activities would be deported, but has not said when or given their names. Unlike in the past, local papers are now awash with advertisements offering students places at Asian universities, mostly in Malaysia.

In the run-up to the 29 March presidential election, which was won by Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai but not with the 50% majority needed to claim the presidency, Malaysia said it was prepared to grant asylum to Mugabe, who faced threats of charges of crimes against humanity as power seemed to slip from his grasp.

Instead, the 28-year ruler unleashed brutal violence against opposition supporters, leading to more than 100 murders and Tsvangirai boycotting a run-off poll. Unsurprisingly, Mugabe won that one-man election on 27 June, but it was condemned by observers from the African Union, Pan-African Parliament and Southern African Development Community as not reflecting the will of the people.

In an interview with University World News, Zimbabwe's Deputy Minister of Information and Publicity Bright Matonga said the fact that an increasing number of students were heading to Asia was not a government directive, but was rather due to the fact that they were loyal to their government. Mugabe has pursued a 'Look East' policy since western government's imposed targeted sanctions on key members of his regime.

"The trend is not as a result of a government directive, but people are taking precautionary measures [and responding to] our Look East policy due to the west's illegal regime change agenda. Naturally we expect people to take a hint from the way we operate," Matonga said.

"We are however encouraged by the fact that our students are now going to Asian universities because these are developing countries and their curricula are modelled along the same lines as ours as we share a similar strategies and in some cases history."

One consultancy firm splashing adverts in the local press, Saddein Education Consultancy, said it could facilitate the enrolment of Zimbabwean students in Asian countries.

Last year Australia deported eight students on grounds that their parents were supporting Mugabe's oppressive government.

Then Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he was aware that the deportations were akin to making children pay for the sins of their fathers. "I accept that and I reflected very carefully on that but the fact is that the sins of the fathers, the sins of the parents, are egregious sins.

"These are people who are doing enormous damage to the ordinary people of Zimbabwe and their children shouldn't have privileges extended to them by the Australian people," he said. "I don't think the Australian people want to extend privileges to the families of people who are causing so much sorrow, so much grief and so much hardship in Zimbabwe."

Among those deported were Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono's twin daughters Pride and Praise, who were studying tourism and hospitality studies at La Trobe University, and his son Passion who was studying music production at a Sydney college. Also deported were children of the police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri, and Rural Housing and Social Amenities Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who doubles up as Mugabe's election agent.

Last month, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told The Australian newspaper that it was investigating reports that at least three other adult children of pro-Mugabe leaders in Zimbabwe were studying or working in Australia, and that the government would continue to review the visas of Zimbabwean children who parents appear on the international sanctions list.

When the students arrived in back in Harare late last year the state-run newspaper The Herald, which normally reflects government thinking, ran an editorial saying parents should start sending students to Asian institutions of higher learning in line with the government's 'Look East' policy.

In an interview with University World News the US embassy spokesperson in Harare, Mark Weinberg, said the embassy was not in a position to comment on the issue. But he added that it was "reviewing" the sanctions list. "The US is continually reviewing its list of sanctioned individuals. Because of privacy laws we cannot comment on who is and who isn't on our sanctions list," Weinberg said.

The British embassy press and public affairs first secretary Keith Scott said currently the United Kingdom was not pursuing a policy to deport students, but was investigating how many family members of leaders serving Mugabe were in the UK. If these family members were found to be violating the European union's visa and asset freeze on Zimbabwe, they would be added to the sanctions list, he added.

"The Mugabe regime is illegitimate. It has sponsored a campaign against its own people and shown complete disregard for the democratic process. While there are no plans currently to deport students whose parents are in the regime, we are investigating family members of those on the EU's visa ban and assets freeze, and we will take action."