ZIMBABWE: Students abroad starve

Zimbabweans studying abroad on government scholarships are starving as the country's authorities struggle to raise funds for their upkeep. Local newspapers have been awash with letters from desperate students who have fallen on hard times. Most are studying in Algeria but there are also students who are suffering in Libya, Cuba, China and Russia.

A decade-long economic collapse exacerbated by international isolation, blamed on the ruinous policies of President Robert Mugabe, has rendered the Zimbabwean government unable to fulfil many of its financial commitments, including study abroad scholarships.

"This letter serves as a desperate plea from the students in Algeria to responsible authorities in Zimbabwe as all the other means of formal communications have received no response. Circumstances here are very bad," said one student in a letter published in the weekly independent Standard newspaper in its 16 to 22 August edition.

"Currently we are on four-months summer holiday during which we do not have subsidised food. So we are starving. We are supposed to buy our own food, cooking utensils such as gloves, pots etc...The last nine months have been a period of torment and untold suffering which has produced an adverse effect on our studies."

The student added that previously, desperate students had borrowed money from fellow students from other countries. But now nobody wanted to lend the Zimbabweans money as they had failed to repay outstanding amounts.

In another letter published in another weekly newspaper, the Zimbabwe Independent, reader Vukani Madoda wrote he had a relative studying at a foreign higher education institution, who had also complained about the dire straits Zimbabwean students are going through because of the government's failure to pay them promised allowances.

"Others have resorted to prostitution. At first I believed my sister-in-law had made a breakthrough but now I feel that she and a host of other students have been condemned to live a life of destitution in a foreign land," said Madoda in his letter.

Earlier this month Finance Minister Tendai Biti told the parliamentary portfolio committee on finance, budget and investment promotion that the Zimbabwean government requires about US$8.4 billion in financial support, some of which would be used to support priority sectors including education and health. Of that, Biti said that $1 billion was required immediately.

In February a unity government was formed between Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party and the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change, whose leader Morgan Tsvangirai is now Prime Minister.

But the new government has struggled to raise resources from international organisations, donors and governments who remain reluctant to have any dealing with Mugabe and his party, whose oppressive rule and gross mismanagement brought Zimbabwe to its knees.