ZAMBIA: Copperbelt expels nine student leaders

The senate of Zambia's Copperbelt University has expelled nine student leaders following violent protests that rocked the institution last month. Students there and at the University of Zambia embarked on demonstrations after the prosecuting authority indicated in July that it would not charge policemen who have shot three students since last year.

Police shot one student at Copperbelt University earlier this year, and two others from the University of Zambia were shot last year. The Copperbelt student, Cornelius Mwape, died while the other two students sustained serious injuries.

In July, Deputy Home Affairs Minister Misheck Bonshe told parliament that investigations into the student shootings had been concluded but no police officer would be charged owing to insufficient evidence.

The nine Copperbelt University students were expelled without a hearing, drawing sharp criticism from some student leaders and non-governmental organisations involved in higher education. The senate also suspended all student union activities for the riotous behaviour of some who burned a Toyota Hilux vehicle.

Following the burning of the vehicle, police arrested for arson and later released Copperbelt University Students Union Vice-president Lucky Miyanda and Secretary-general Kenneth Sampa. They have threatened to sue the police for false arrest and defamation of character.

Two others, Zecks Nshimbi and Lilanda Phiri, were also arrested and they are currently appearing in course on arson charges, which they have denied.

In a statement obtained by University World News, the University of Zambia Students Union (UNZASU) said it was stunned that "learned" authorities could take such action against student leaders, and compared the decision to those taken by university authorities during the apartheid era in South Africa.

"It is rather shocking that the much-learned authorities of the university could sink so low as to expel students without any form of trial to prove their innocence. This is an act of tyranny, an act of oppression and dictatorship," said the statement signed by UNZASU president Duncan Nyirongo.

Regarding demonstrations, it added that expressing displeasure through protest was not a new phenomenon and was a constitutional and democratic right. An assessment of the matter needed to be carried out if a better and lasting solution was to be found.

"We all understand the right of any accused to be heard as being one of the fundamental principles of natural justice. Expulsion from a university is the highest level of punishment that can be slapped by the university on erring students. As such, there should be evidence beyond any reasonable doubt for such a punishment to be meted on any accused person."

Zambian students are also demanding the resignation of Education Minister Dora Siliya. Since her appointment in June, relationships between the government and students have reached their lowest point in five years. Their opposition to the Minister was based on corruption charges that she faced in court, although she was cleared of the accusations.

Student lack of respect for the court judgment appears motivated by concerns of political meddling in the judiciary. These fears have heightened since former Zambian President Frederick Chiluba was acquitted by a local court on six counts of theft involving US$500,000 in state funds - despite the fact that he had earlier been found guilty of wrongdoing by a court in the United Kingdom.