ZIMBABWE: Students under financial, political pressure

Forty percent of Zimbabwe's students have been expelled from examination rooms for failing to pay their fees, and some have resorted to crime to raise funds. The crisis comes amid reports that President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF foot soldiers are moving around some campuses forcing students to sign an anti-sanctions petition.

Kudakwashe Chakabva, spokesperson for the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu), said the union's figures show that 40% of their members have failed to write examinations that are pegged in US$, the currency in use since the country abandoned the worthless Zimbabwean dollar in February 2009 to escape hyperinflation that stood at 2.3 million percent - a world record in recent years.

Chakabva said: "To make matters worse students are also being asked to pay cadetship funds for last year after government failed to pay."

The government has a cadetship scheme whereby the state pays for students' studies and then 'bonds' them to work for the state for the same period as their study, or repay the loan. But funds hardly ever reach universities as the state is strapped for cash, resulting in students also being punished for government's broken promises to pay.

As previously reported in University World News, last year the government announced the reintroduction of students grants after they had been suspended. But amid fierce political in-fighting, only a few weeks later others in government announced the suspension of student grants, saying government needed to withhold funds in order to settle the 2010 cadetship scheme deficit.

The majority of Zimbabwean parents are state employees who earn less than US$200 per month, placing higher education beyond the reach of many.

Funding problems have been blamed for the increasing involvement of students in criminal activities and prostitution.

Earlier this month a final-year masters student at Africa University was jailed for an effective 15 years for armed robbery.

Garikai Dikito (34 at the time of the incident) was found guilty of robbing three supermarkets in Harare after threatening to shoot till operators if they did not hand him cash. Ironically, he was studying peace, leadership and good governance.

A report on a study examining the life of female students at the University of Zimbabwe, compiled by Professor Rudo Gaidzanwa and Dr Charity Manyeruke for the Student Solidarity Trust last year, concluded that some students have had to resort to "prostitution and relationships of convenience" in order to survive financially.

The report also said that to beat transport challenges, both male and female students would catch rides on open trucks or disembark from public transport without paying the fare.

Zinasu's Chakabva said that in addition to financial pressures, students were being forced to sign a petition launched by Mugabe to place pressure on the international community to end sanctions against him and his inner circle, for human rights violations and repression.

As previously reported, students and academics in Zimbabwe are divided in their opinions on scrapping sanctions. The embargo has seen some students whose parents are Mugabe loyalists being expelled from Australian universities.

The other parties in the inclusive government, the Movement for Democratic Change formations, have also complained that their members are being forced to sign the anti-sanctions petition.