Students outraged by ‘no jab, no exam’ directives

The decision by several higher education institutions in Zimbabwe to require students to be fully vaccinated before they can sit for examinations has outraged many students. Exams were abandoned midway in early July when COVID-19 cases began to surge.

On 12 August the Zimbabwe Ministry of Information and Publicity issued a statement advising the public that only fully vaccinated citizens would be allowed to attend religious services. Some institutions of higher learning soon followed suit with a similar directive.

In a notice to students on 13 August, the Harare Institute of Technology (HIT) Registrar, Mary Samupindi, barred unvaccinated students from sitting for their end of semester examinations.

“All students coming for the examinations are expected to produce a valid vaccination card or certificate or COVID-19 negative PCR test issued within 48 hours,’’ reads part of the statement that also stated that fully vaccinated students will be first in line for accommodation.

The University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and Manicaland State University of Applied Sciences issued similar notices, which have angered students.

Chiedza Mapfumo, a chemical engineering student at HIT, told University World News that, although she is pro-vaccines, she doesn’t believe that people should be forced to get vaccinated.

“The demand by HIT to produce a PCR-negative test issued within 48 hours is not feasible. The test costs about US$60 and it is needed every 48 hours. If they had asked for the cheaper rapid tests, it would have been better,” said Mapfumo.

Lennox Machoko, the SRC president of UZ, opposed forced vaccination “which is a violation of human rights”.

“The move to make vaccination a requirement for one to enter into the exam room is unacceptable. I strongly urge the UZ administration to stand by the position stated by the government, which is that vaccination is to be done voluntarily,” he said.

Other students who spoke to University World News had similar views to Sinclair Mavengano, a student at Zimbabwe Ezekiel Guti University, who said: “Just like any medicine, the vaccines should not be compulsory.”

Bruce Moyo, the SRC president at the Harare Polytechnic, also believed the move was a violation of students’ rights.

“We pay exorbitant fees for both tuition and exam registration so as to attain education and sit for exams and that’s our social contract with the universities. Taking of vaccines must not be compulsory. It must be optional and it must be an initiative that doesn’t find itself violating human rights,” he said.

Dialogue about the jab

Meanwhile, the Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust organised a virtual dialogue on the issue on 25 August.

Speaking at the virtual dialogue, dubbed the ‘No Jab, No Examination Dialogue’, Nancy Njenge, the Zimbabwe National Students Union gender secretary, said that, although she supported vaccinations and encouraged people to get vaccinated, everyone should be able to make voluntary choices.

“Instead of forcing people to get vaccinated, let people make their own choices. Let people understand that vaccines are essential, that vaccines are key,” Njenge said.

Chinhoyi University of Technology’s Pritchard Paradzayi supported Njenge, but Munashe O’brian Gutu, the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Law Students Association at the University of Zimbabwe Law School highlighted legal aspects which may favour those who are compelling students to vaccinate.

“In a recent judgment concerning the disenrolment of the unvaccinated at the Indiana University in the United States, the court cited with approval the classic case of Jacobson vs Massachusetts 197 US 11 (1905) upholding the decision of public bodies to limit services to vaccinated students only. Should Zimbabwean students bring this matter to the courts, they may potentially lose the case,” he said.

Another law student, Lincoln Majogo, echoed Gutu’s sentiments, saying: “A good legal question that should be asked is whether unvaccinated persons create an unsafe working environment even if they mask up, sanitise and practise social distancing. In my respectful view, this is the crux in the present issue.”