Student support seems to be shifting towards ruling party

Long before the surprise toppling of former president Robert Mugabe and the installation of the country’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, support among students for the ruling ZANU-PF party had been growing, with unions making inroads in elections at key universities previously regarded as opposition strongholds.

For years, the Zimbabwe National Students Union, or ZINASU, which is aligned to the opposition MDC-T led by Morgan Tsvangirai, has dominated student politics. ZINASU student leaders such as former deputy prime minister Professor Arthur Mutambara and MDC Vice President Nelson Chamisa shot to prominence for opposing ZANU-PF rule. They were seen as the voice of the students as well as the Zimbabweans suffering under Mugabe’s regime – of which Mnangagwa was a part.

However, the Zimbabwe Congress of Students Union or ZICOSU, known to support the ruling ZANU-PF which was accused of trampling over student and academic freedoms, is now threatening to eclipse ZINASU.

In May this year ZICOSU candidates won the Students Representative Council or SRC elections at the University of Zimbabwe or UZ, the country’s oldest and most prestigious institution of higher learning. They also secured positions in the prestigious UZ senate.

ZICOSU candidates have also prevailed at other tertiary institutions, inter alia the National University of Science and Technology or NUST, Lupane State University, Masvingo Polytechnic and Solusi University.

ZICOSU is obviously rooting for ZANU-PF to retain power in next year’s elections.

In an opinion piece in the Herald newspaper after ZICOSU won the UZ SRC elections, Lonias Rozvi Majoni, an English honours graduate and a former student leader, said the shift in student politics showed that students have become conscious over the years of the fundamental issues affecting their country, and have grown fatigued by the MDC’s empty rhetoric about human rights and democracy without proffering concrete economic empowerment strategies.

Describing the University of Zimbabwe as a “microcosm of broader society”, he said, “If anyone ever doubted the waning fortunes of the opposition MDC-T, the recent University of Zimbabwe Students Representative Council elections have put to rest those doubts following the trouncing of opposition-aligned candidates.”

According to Godknows Mdhari, the national ZICOSU treasurer general, said the union was gaining ground because it was “patriotic” and had been championing student welfare issues that include accommodation and fee matters.

He said the union had also conducted an analysis and concluded that Mnangagwa’s policies and views were sound and he should be supported in next year’s polls.

“It all goes back to patriotism. Our union consists of students who are patriotic to this nation while ZINASU, they are proxies of western colonial ideology. ZICOSU resembles the will of the people of Zimbabwe in as far as student activism is concerned,” said Mdhari. He said most students in Zimbabwe believe in their agenda.

However, Makomborero Haruzivishe, ZINASU secretary general, said ZICOSU has been gaining ground due to an undemocratic voting system.

He rejected claims the union members were proxies for former colonisers.

“What is happening is that when voting, only those students who have fully paid their fees are allowed to vote and those who have made payment plans do not vote. So children of war veterans, top government officials and children of those benefitting from their political inclination are the ones who are voting for the grouping of puppets,” he said.

“The majority who have not paid fees are denied a say in the Students Representative Council elections, yet they are the one who need the SRC the most.”

He said the union was planning to lobby the new Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Professor Amon Murwira, to ensure that every registered student is allowed to vote in student elections.

Despite Haruzivishe’s assertions, the shift is notable.

Charlton Hwende, an MDC executive member and a former student leader, said the student vote, as part of the youth vote, could decide who wins in the 2018 general elections.

In a Facebook post on 6 May 2017 Hwende wrote: “After our loss at the University of Zimbabwe student elections yesterday we must go back to the drawing board and self-introspect. ZANU-PF getting over 1,400 at the University of Zimbabwe should be a cause for concern.

"The youth vote is critical for 2018. Our problem is that we think former student leaders don’t matter; it’s a fatal mistake. Let’s consult them and speak to the young people,” reads part of Hwende’s post.