Strong support for university’s first major fundraising campaign

The University of Zimbabwe’s fundraising initiative has raised more than US$12 million and has led to companies ‘adopting’ some faculties and pledges to support scholarships.

The country’s premier and oldest higher education institution launched a fundraising initiative in April, aimed at mobilising US$70 million in a bid to reclaim its lost glory.

In the past decade, Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis has led to underfunding, the dilapidation of facilities and a severe academic brain drain, among other problems.

The initiate is being led by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, who was a student leader at the University of Zimbabwe in 1989 and became one of the earliest critics of President Robert Mugabe’s regime and an opposition leader. He joined the unity government following a power-sharing pact negotiated by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

Mbeki was the guest of honour in April at the launch of the fundraising initiative, which seeks to encourage, develop, nurture and leverage African philanthropy. Mbeki has pledged to return to Zimbabwe to check progress on the initiative.

The fundraising initiative was Mutambara’s brainchild. He argued that while considerable wealth has been created by Africans in the telecommunications, mining, tourism, construction and banking sectors, among others, there has been limited strategic giving back by Africans to African institutions.

As part of the money raised, the University of Zimbabwe has said that US$4 million would be used towards the full utilisation of its state-of-the-art Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation Centre, recently installed in collaboration with the African Union and the European Space Agency.

The institution also requires US$21 million for the construction of a female student hostel in order to increase its carrying capacity from 826 to 1,626 female students. Another US$4 million is required to upgrade workshops and laboratories.

Funds will also be used to establish a video-conferencing link between three teaching hospitals, to reduce costly movement of lecturers and students between them.

Zimbabwean businesses have been responding to the campaign. In addition to the more than US$12 million raised so far, Mutambara’s office said companies had come on board to adopt some departments. One example is the Mbada diamond company, which has adopted the engineering department where mining is housed.

Property magnate Phillip Chiyangwa and others have also agreed to help construct a new university chapel, at a cost of US$1.6 million.

An academic based in the United States, Professor Rueben Simoyi, has offered to assist in efforts to mobilise Zimbabwean dons scattered across the globe to come back home and teach at the institution for varying periods.

Simoyi is part of a fundraising committee that also includes prominent locals based overseas including Dr Alex Magaisa of the Kent Law School in the United Kingdom.

Mutambara’s office said fundraising was ongoing, and pledges had also been received “from the likes of Old Mutual, Delta and the dairy board”. Other pledges include support for scholarships.

Every graduate since the university opened in 1957 has been urged to make a minimum contribution of US$100 to the ongoing fundraising.

The university said its fundraising efforts would go a long way towards realising its vision of joining the league of the world’s great broad-based teaching and research institutions.

It added that the fundraising initiative would become an annual exercise, with the outcomes announced and reviewed to ensure constant renewal, modernisation and upgrading of academic departments and research institutes.

“The fundraising campaign is like no other that has ever been seen in Zimbabwe, in that the goal is not simply to raise funds for the institution, but also to raise energy in the form of alumni engagement and personal involvement with the university and its broader community,” said Vice-chancellor Levi Nyagura in the fundraising brochure.

Together, these elements would create the momentum to carry the university far beyond the end of the campaign into a stronger and brighter future for the institution and its ability to influence the wider community.