ZAMBIA: Angry students petition new president

Zambian students have petitioned newly elected President Rupiah Banda about their grievances, including low student allowances and industrial action by academics, which they say have been ignored for too long.

The Zambia Students Union told University World News that a petition had been sent to Banda before the presidential election at the end of last month and their complaints still stand.

"We raised the issue of student allowances and disruption of learning due to job action by academic staff," a union spokesman said. "The President said he would address our grievances and we remain hopeful."

Banda, Zambia's former Vice-President, won a tight contest against opposition leader Michael Sata to succeed late President Levy Mwanawasa, who died earlier this year before the end of his term. There were claims of vote rigging but Banda was sworn in as president and has since appointed a new cabinet.

In May, Mwanawasa refused to accede to student demands for a 100% increase in allowances, from 300,000 Zambian Kwacha (US$90) to 600,000 Kwacha per month, and project and book allowances. He argued that students were getting more than enough compared with what some workers were being paid.

Students had earlier rioted over their complaints, and in June two students from the University of Zambia were shot and wounded by police during a demonstration in which they stoned vehicles.

It remains to be seen whether Banda will address the students' concerns as promised but previous government pledges to improve educational standards have not been successful, with the latest being its bid to reduce the brain drain of science lecturers.