Student activism must be revived

HARARE - Since the turn of the millennium, student activism in the country has been slowly but surely dying.

From student activism, vibrant national politicians have been nurtured.

From nationalist politicians such as the late Witness Mangwende to the current breed who include Arthur Mutambara, Edgar Mbwembwe, Nelson Chamisa and the late MDC spokesperson Learnmore Jongwe, to mention just a few, the country’s tertiary institutions have been conveyor belts of political talent but that is now history.

Universities were centres of heated and constructive intellectual and political debates then, but things change.

Students now concentrate on what they refer to as “Sadza and stew politics” where they concentrate more on where they will get their next meal to carry them through to the next semester.

All they want is to finish their respective programmes and leave — they no longer have time for national issues that affect not only them but the generality of Zimbabweans.

There are multiplicities of factors that explain the demise of students’ participation which among other issues include the promulgation of draconian pieces of legislation particularly Public Order and Security Act (Posa), Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) and the infamous university Ordinance 30.

These pieces of legislation were deliberately crafted to protect the authorities as well as keep the students under lock and key.

An economic embargo was also laid against the students in the late 90s by scratching the students grant scheme and privatising catering services.

This has helped the authorities neutralise the student movement and divert their attention from real national issues to concentrate on “fork and knife” issues.

Legislations such as Posa and Aippa practically make it criminal to assemble and associate which is the basis of not only student activism but activism of any kind be it political or civic.

The legislations are the most indirect way of directly infringing on students’ right to assemble and demonstrate.

This has made the government arguably the most fascist regime ever to exist on the universe considering the desperate strategies to silence students’ voice and the calls of the youths.

Since then, politicians in their own imagination and self-made comfort zones have paid lip service to the plight of students.

They have treated them with utter contempt, more as “snakeholders than stakeholders” in decision making.

Consequently, the basic tenets of democratic practice have become alien to those in the top echelons of power.

With student activism in the intensive care unit as it is, the implications and consequences are too ghastly to contemplate, as stinking corruption and nepotism in government has become the order of the day.

While in the late 80s students led by Mutambara,Munyaradzi Gwisai, Tendai Biti and others led a  demonstration against the abuse of a motor vehicle scheme by ministers (Willowgate Scandal) which claimed the life of a Cabinet minister, today there is deafening silence from the students’ bodies on the Asiagate scandal and other wealth-accumulation projects by senior government officials.

The other result is that at university campuses, the infamous universities ordinances particularly Ordinance 30 at the University of Zimbabwe is a classic example of an administration of wolves taking responsibility of sheep.

These ordinances promote arbitrary arrests, unjustified suspensions of student leaders reminiscent of the latres de cachet of the Ancient regime in 16th century France.

In the end, the “life vice chancellors” seconded to many state universities are now turning universities into personal tuck-shops where students seem to be their stock.

However, what skips the minds of the authorities is the simple fact that an intelligent mind is always restless and they are only brewing anger in the student movement.

As the election season approaches, it’s time for students to realise they have power to decide the destiny of the nation.

What we need is a sober and progressive government which does not reduce citizens to some age-scavengers in the new millennium.

It is written in the bible in John 10: 10 that “give them and let them have it in abundance” and as students we should have freedom in abundance. - Francis Mufambi

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