ZIMBABWE: Students send protest alerts to leaders

Zimbabwean students have launched a 45-day campaign during which protest message will be sent to the government. The aim is to pile pressure on the authorities to turn the struggling higher education sector around.

The 'Deposit Your Voice Campaign' will see parents, students, workers, churches, media practitioners, academics and rights activists, among others, writing daily protest notes directed at Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe, urging them to tackle falling standards at tertiary institutions.

The formation of the inclusive government in February 2009 between rivals Mugabe and Tsvangirai, following nearly a decade of intense political battles, had brought hope that improvements to the higher education system would be made. But infighting has seen the government fail to deliver.

Last week Tafadzwa Mugwadi, President of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, said the involvement of a variety of voices in the campaign came from the realisation that government had previously failed to act on pleas submitted by student leaders alone.

In the latest campaign thousands of handwritten letters will be delivered to the prime minister and the president, urging them to prioritise higher education. "We will deliver sacks of letters to their offices," Mugwadi said.

Daily phone calls will also be made to the leaders' offices and they will be sent email messages.

In their resolution document released to mark the launch of the campaign, the students said they were concerned at the growing numbers of talented students who were either dropping out or failing to enrol in institutions of higher learning.

The resolution added that students were offended by the number of students who completed their studies but whose certificates, diplomas or degrees were withheld due to outstanding fees.

This is in terms of government's restrictive cadet scheme for those students who received state financial support. Such graduates are also required to work for the state once graduating. But recruitment in the civil service has been frozen and unemployment levels generally are high.

The student resolution recorded that they were disturbed by the fact that students "are engaging in options of last resort, that is, prostitution, poorly paid manual labour and political servitude in a desperate bid to survive".

The resolution continued that students had realised "that higher education has fallen victim to policy discord" arising out of "lack of a clear and comprehensive national education policy owing to parochial partisan interests of the parties in the chaotic inclusive government.

"We hereby launch this national campaign, the Deposit Your Voice Campaign, which seeks to afford students and the nation at large an opportunity to speak out and demand a rethink in the discourse of the state of higher education in the country," part of the resolution stated.

It added that students expected government to respond within 14 working days of completion of the campaign. Failure to do so would "attract corrective measures from the disgruntled students and various societies of Zimbabwe".