ZIMBABWE: Unqualified Mugabe supporters access HE

Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF party is forcing the admission of young supporters into higher education institutions even though they do not meet entry requirements. Students claim the party is using them to destabilise the student union movement by reporting on its activities.

Many of the under-qualified students have first gone through 're-education' at the Border Gezi National Youth Training Centre, named after the late Minister of Youth, Gender and Employment Creation who in the early 2000s was in charge of recruiting and organising youth militia that attacked opposition supporters and staged invasions of white-owned farms.

Clever Bere, president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu), said the enrolment of government-supporting students was part of the ruling party's patronage system, and that Zanu-PF youths were studying at all polytechnics.

"It shows that Zanu-PF is not concerned about developing education in the country," said Bere. "The party is less worried about the quality of graduates needed by the economy than its continued hold on power."

Bere also claimed that young supporters of President Robert Mugabe were destabilising the student union movement by relaying information to state agents on student activities that were then clamped down upon, curtailing academic and other freedoms such as freedom of assembly and association.

Graduates who had gone through Border Gezi training are also given preference in civil service recruitment, and are used to spy for the government in the workplace, he claimed.

Professor Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, said Zanu-PF's higher education recruitment policy was informed by a desire to "neutralise opposition sympathies at institutions" and would have ramifications beyond the education sector.

"This is obviously intended to indoctrinate students at institutions of higher learning and neutralise any pockets of opposition sympathy. It is meant to align students to the Zanu-PF way of thinking and ideology," Masunungure added.

"It raises questions about the quality of training and learning and the quality of output. The educational system has been compromised and the quality is questionable. It will have a negative ripple effect."

Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, has blamed 're-educated' ruling party youths for conducting a campaign of terror to ensure Mugabe's continued hold on power - a claim supported by Amnesty International.

In a 2002 report titled Memorandum to SADC, on the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe, Amnesty expressed concern about attacks on opposition supporters perpetrated by hundreds of youngsters trained at the government-sponsored Border Gezi and two similar youth camps. It produced eye witnesses who described military - rather than community service - training being provided at the camps.