Hundreds of students evicted from residences

More than 500 students have been evicted from halls of residence at the University of Zimbabwe for protests staged in December last year, throwing learners from poor backgrounds onto the streets.

Some students protested at Zimbabwe’s top higher education institution in December over a number of issues, one of which was arbitrary evictions from residences by the university warden.

Makomborero Haruzivishe, the Student Representative Council (SRC) secretary for academic and legal affairs, said large numbers of students had been left stranded after the latest “arbitrary” action.

“More than 500 students have been affected, but some of them were not there when protests were held. Initially students were protesting against the alarming rate at which students were being evicted,” said Haruzivishe.

Many of the expelled students are not from Harare and their parents are poor in a country where most government employees earn less than US$300 a month. A recent report said that accommodation problems had resulted in some female students engaging in prostitution.

The mass eviction of students came at a time when University of Zimbabwe Vice-chancellor Levi Nyagura – a close ally of President Robert Mugabe and whom students accuse of flouting academic freedom – is clinging to the top job after reaching the retirement age of 65 years.

Nyagura, whose tenure expired in December 2012, has had two terms as vice-chancellor and two terms as pro vice-chancellor, giving him 16 years at the helm of the university. He was the only vice-chancellor in Zimbabwe included by Western countries on sanctions lists along with Mugabe and his inner circle.

Local media have suggested that the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, a robotics professor and former president of the SRC at the University of Zimbabwe who is currently championing a fundraising initiative to raise US$70 million to rejuvenate the institution, could take over should Nyagura succumb to pressure and leave.

Jonathan Moyo, a former professor at the university and an MP from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, has also been tipped as a possible replacement.

During his tenure, Nyagura has expelled dozens of students, mainly for protesting against Mugabe’s autocratic rule and deteriorating conditions at the university.

While Nyagura remains in post, newspapers have been flooded with letters criticising him and highlighting his flagrant disregard for the rights of students, lecturers and university staff alike.

In one recent letter published in The Financial Gazette, a leading weekly newspaper, a student said Nyagura should get a taste of his own medicine and be ejected – he is on record for refusing certain key academics extensions to teach beyond retirement.

“He fires lecturers and workers at will and yet he has not won a single labour dispute in court during his term. Check his record. Only recently the University of Zimbabwe buses were attached because he had wrongly sacked people from their jobs. The poor workers were left with no transport. All he does is tarnish the good name of Zimbabwe,” read another letter.