ZIMBABWE: University closed following protests

Authorities in Zimbabwe closed the University of Zimbabwe, the country's oldest, after violent demonstrations sparked by the government's decision to charge fees in foreign currency. The protests followed an official notice demanding that students pay an examination fee of US$400 and US$1,800 per semester, and quickly spread to other public institutions.

A joint statement released by the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu), Zimbabwe Students Christian Movement, the Youth Agenda and Students Solidarity Trust, said 75 students had been arrested at the university during their National Campaign Against Dollarisation of Education in Zimbabwe.

The university closure placed in jeopardy examinations supposed to be taken last week and spilled over to other state-run institutions: three students were arrested at Midlands State University after nearly 300 students marched to the vice-chancellor's office.

In a court session attended by University World News, three of the 75 University of Zimbabwe students - Vitalis Mudzonga, Justice Chikanga and Tawanda Katsuro - were accused by prosecutors of having property worth US$1,000.

A statement released by Zinasu following the university's closure asserted that "payments of fees in foreign currency will be the final death nail on the collapse of our once vibrant and robust education sector. Scores of students will drop out of school owing to high fees."

The union vowed to "continue the fight against "dollarisation' and the commodification of our birthright that is education".

A statement on the protests at the Midlands State University said that "overzealous university security guards, with the help of riot police officers, violently quashed the demonstration resulting in the injury of several students".

Letters from students complaining about fees charged in US dollars have flooded the local press. One letter, written by Nomatter Chiringa in the state-owned newspaper The Sunday Mail, said the government's decision to demand foreign currency was heartless and regrettable.

"Such decisions expose the venerable but competent students like me from realising our dreams," Chiringa wrote, adding that the current crop of Zimbabwe's leaders were educated for free by the rulers of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was called before independence in 1980.

Last week, President Robert Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai formed a government of national unity. But, in earlier interviews, students and lecturers said they did not believe the inclusive government would solve their woes because of mistrust for Mugabe.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti told a press conference that all civil servants, including teachers, lecturers and soldiers would be paid US$100 each, with a review being effected "once the situation improves".

Biti was evasive when asked where the government had sourced the foreign currency, saying "we scrounged around. Where the money came from is not important. What is important is that we are getting Zimbabwe to work again".