ZIMBABWE: Students angry over lack of SRC elections

The University of Zimbabwe is reportedly one of five universities that has gone for years without a students' representative council - a development students say infringes on their rights.

The university's Vice-chancellor Levi Nyagura is on the European Union targeted sanctions list for helping to prop up the autocratic regime of President Robert Mugabe, who is the chancellor of all state universities.

Nyaguru said the university did not have funds to run the polls, but students think the reasons are political. Thee has not been a students' representative council (SRC) election at the institution for three-and-a-half years.

In a letter to The Financial Gazette, Zechariah Mushawatu said SRCs - whose members also sit on university bodies such as council and senate as well as department and faculty boards - are crucial to airing student grievances and organising students against unjust administrative policies and actions.

He accused the University of Zimbabwe of deliberately incapacitating students. "Instead of seeking to hinder, hamper or encumber the ability of students to demonstrate against unjust policies by making sure they have no leaders, the UZ administration should seek to pursue just policies so that students have no reason to demonstrate," he wrote.

In an interview on Wednesday, spokesperson for the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) Grant Tagwirei said four other universities had also gone for years without SRC elections. They included the National university of Science and Technology (NUST) in Bulawayo and Midlands State University in Gweru.

At NUST an SRC that was elected for 2008-09 was overthrown within a fortnight and there has been no election since.

A poll is slated for next week after pressure was brought to bear on the authorities, but last week six students were briefly detained by police while campaigning - a move Zinasu interpreted as a plot by the authorities to ensure the election of an SRC sympathetic to Mugabe.

Tagwirei said he did not see SRC elections being held any time soon at the University of Zimbabwe and Midlands State University.

"There is now a disturbing trend at teacher colleges, where students are asked to vote the way we did at primary school by raising your hands and not through secret ballot. They want to put in stooges," Tagwirei added.

Professor John Makumbe, a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said most vice-chancellors were members of Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and that they have even been barring students from holding political meetings.

"They think to curtail opposition politics they should not have a SRC and they even disallow political meetings on campus. They are violating student rights. These are not just human rights, they are also intellectual rights. Students have the right to organise themselves and to secure their interests," said Makumbe.