Student organisations support rival presidential candidates

Zimbabwe’s leading student unions are supporting rival presidential candidates in the general election set for 23 August, reflecting divisions in society. The student organisations differ about the extent to which the current president and his ruling party have advanced their affairs within the higher education sector.

The country’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is seeking re-election, succeeded Robert Mugabe following a coup in November 2017. A few months after taking power, Mnangagwa won a disputed presidential poll in 2018 against opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, who is his main challenger again this time around.

The country’s two main student unions are divided over the candidates.

Benon Ncube, the president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU), told University World News that, under Mnangagwa, students have been increasingly persecuted and higher education has become inaccessible to many, a good reason for him to pass the baton.

“The number of students being politically persecuted has been increasing every year. As we speak, five have been behind bars for two months now.

“Fees are increased exorbitantly every semester … Students [are] dropping out and deferring increase every year due to exorbitant fees. Accommodation remains a crisis with some rentals costing more than the fees. Unemployment remains high among university graduates,” said Ncube.

He said freedom of expression and association must be respected and political victimisation and oppression should not be experienced on the campuses of learning institutions in the manner in which it is currently happening.

Ncube said that, at the moment, there is a need to roll out mental health awareness programmes at universities as depression has hit hard on students. He said an alternative presidential candidate outside Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF party must be given a chance.

“The economy has plunged to such depths that our currency is just but paper and [the prices of] basic commodities have gone up, forcing our society into poverty.

“Usually, the alternative to a situation you are in, especially if you are in the worst of situations, is better. At this point, it is the former secretary-general of ZINASU, Nelson Chamisa,” he said.

An opposing view

In a separate interview with University World News, the president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Students Union (ZICOSU), Pijiwest Nhamburo, said his union was campaigning for Zanu-PF because it was the force behind the liberation war that brought independence to Zimbabwe in 1980.

He also said Zimbabwe’s ruling party had empowered former marginalised black people through a number of initiatives such as the land reform programme.

About two decades ago, then President Robert Mugabe seized white-owned farms in a violent campaign to resettle blacks.

In terms of ZICOSU’s endorsement of Mnangagwa, Nhamburo said that, after succeeding Mugabe in 2017, the current president had brought far-reaching transformation in the higher education sector.

He cited infrastructure projects being undertaken at nearly all state universities, including the building of accommodation, libraries and innovation hubs.

“There has also been a drastic shift from the colonial education where blacks were trained to serve a master. Now there is an emphasis on skills. Also, since the president came to power, there has been the issue of the national qualifications framework. Students can now move from one university to the other,” he said.

Recently, Zimbabwe’s Higher Education Minister, Amon Murwira, told parliament that, after Mnangagwa came to power, Zimbabwe had to configure its higher and tertiary education policy from Education 3.0, which was focusing on teaching, research and community service to Education 5.0, which is focused on teaching, research, community service, innovation and industrialisation, by adding innovation and industrialisation.

“Our intention is very clear in that we are saying our education must lead to something, because all the industries that we see in this world are a result of innovation of education systems.

“So, our overall aim is this transformation to make Zimbabwe’s education curve dominate the technology curve. The colonial education system was not teaching us to make the technology, therefore our education curve was always below the technology curve.

“We were always using words such as, ‘We shall import this, or buy that’. Once we are able to make our university education dominate the technology curve, we transition from social pain to prosperity, thereby leading to the facilitation of rapid and equitable development,” Murwira said.