ZIMBABWE: Mugabe scraps student elections

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe is tightening his grip on the country's institutions of higher learning by scrapping elections to choose student leaders. The Zimbabwe National Students Union, Zinasu, said authorities at Harare Polytechnic had done away with student representative council elections and imposed people they could manipulate.

President of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, Zinasu, Clever Bere, also claimed that Bulawayo Polytechnic authorities had also stage-managed the selection of an SRC of their liking - a development that prompted students to pass a vote of no confidence in the leadership of that student union.

"There is a deliberate attempt by the state, through college authorities, to appoint SRCs on a patronage basis, in the process incapacitating or weakening them," said Bere, adding that colleges were now making it impossible for SRCs to collect subscriptions from campuses.

"This process deprives students of the right to elect leaders of their choice. This does nor resonate well with the concept of academic freedom. The idea is that when you cannot elect, you cannot mobile students on issues affecting them," Bere argued.

Many political and civil society figures who oppose Mugabe's government are former student leaders, and students have been at the forefront of opposition to his regime. Earlier this year Zinasu, the country's largest student union, backed Mugabe's arch rival, Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, in presidential elections. Moves against student leaders have long been part of the government's strategy to clamp down on critics.

The last president at the Harare Polytechnic, Steven Matenga, had his room sprayed with acid. He took the matter to court and the assailants were convicted. "I think that was an assassination attempt. They thought he was in his room," Bere told University World News.

Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said Mugabe's imposition of student leaders was no surprise, considering the rigging and use of violence that has characterised national elections as the ageing ruler has clung to power he gained 28 years ago on independence from Britain.