Robert Mugabe has gone, but our struggle goes on

As we celebrate the resignation of former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe I would like to honour students around the country who have, against all odds, defied danger and spoken truth to power despite the vicious visible and invisible risks posed by the dictatorship.

In the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe, there have been thousands of students since the liberation struggle through to the post-independence era who have defied rogue authority, dictatorship, misgovernance and abuse of human rights.

Indeed, the history of Zimbabwe is not complete without a mention of the student activists who stood up against colonialism, took up arms and confronted the colonial regime in the run-up to independence in 1980.

We cannot speak of the democracy movement in Zimbabwe without giving special reference to the students who stood up against Mugabe and defeated him in the late 1980s when he wanted to turn Zimbabwe into a one-party state.

The history of constitutionalism in Zimbabwe would not be complete without the dedicated struggle of committed students and their fight for a new constitution under the banner of a National Constitutional Assembly.

The history of our people’s struggle is also incomplete without mention of the role played by students in the late 1990s in the formation of a people’s party to take on Mugabe and his charlatans in 1999.

And, of course, our contemporary struggle against dictatorship, corruption and our rotten socio-economic and political system is not complete without mention of the role played by students in the radical demonstrations and series of shutdowns held last year under the #TAJAMUKA-SESJIKILE campaign.

These initiatives led by students under the banner of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, or ZINASU, resulted in untold pain, unexpressed suffering, unimagined terror, unhealed trauma and permanent lifelong horrific memories as the rogue Mugabe regime took part in heavy clampdowns in a bid to silence our voice.

Some were killed, some were abducted and tortured, some were arrested on trumped-up charges, some were maliciously convicted, others were imprisoned and others were crippled.

We would like to honour and celebrate the selfless contributions and lives of student leaders and student activists who sacrificed their all in pursuit of a democratic and inclusive Zimbabwe which listens to and addresses citizens’ concerns and issues.

We call on all students to reflect on the sacrifices made by their fellow students across the country in our recent history and not only to celebrate them but to also emulate them and stand up in defence and pursuit of our ideals.

The struggle continues

In Zimbabwe today, we are faced with a complex dictatorship which we have engaged with before and defeated numerous times. All the sacrifices we have made must come to fruition. From our struggles against the one-party state to our struggles for a new Zimbabwe defined by the removal of Robert Mugabe, all have borne fruit.

Students, however, must remain vigilant and not be engulfed in premature celebrations because the resignation of Mugabe in the midst of a military intervention does not mean a progression towards democracy in Zimbabwe.

While Robert Mugabe, who has been a permanent face of the dictatorial system has fallen, he has left behind a strong totalitarian military-backed dictatorship. As students we are very much aware that this military intervention in principle was undemocratic and unconstitutional.

We are also aware that this military intervention is not the first in our country – it follows the first in 2008 when the military solely and violently resisted a transition to power by the opposition that had trounced Robert Mugabe's ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF.

Military generals made declarations at the time that they would never salute a civilian president who does not have liberation-war credentials and a military background.

Thus, as students who have in Zimbabwe's struggle for democracy proven to be both torchbearers for and at the vanguard of democracy, we know that there is a lot to be done around making people aware of the situation and rising up in defence of our rights.

We do, however, welcome the resignation of former president and chancellor of all universities Robert Mugabe as we feel this will at the very least weaken the shackles that prevented widespread access to education and academic freedom.

Mugabe’s 37 years as chancellor resulted in the deterioration of the education sector in terms of its capacity to deliver quality academic services and has seen academic grants removed and expensive tuition fees introduced resulting in tens of thousands of students either deferring or dropping out of university.

His clampdown on academic freedoms left seven members of ZINASU dead, 763 suspended and 204 expelled from colleges countrywide through the application of the draconian Public Order and Security Act and other oppressive orders.

As students we consider Mugabe’s resignation an early Christmas present. We also regard his departure as an opportunity for a new chancellor who is responsive to the needs, issues and concerns of Zimbabwean students.

It is critical for students at this moment in time and in the oncoming few weeks to be firm and demand that incoming president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is replacing Mugabe as the new chancellor, should know that we want free education, we want grants, we want to enjoy academic freedom without any restrictions and, above all, we want a functional economy which will deliver jobs once we graduate.

Makomborero Haruzivishe is secretary general of Zimbabwe National Students Union or ZINASU.