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Exorbitant fees, a demobilizing strategy
Washington Katema
January 18, 2007

The recent unparalleled 2000% fees hike in the tertiary education institutions by the 'government' of the day is a mere but evil ploy or plot to demobilize the students. It is a 16th century desperate strategy, for which the 'artificial government' or 'government by deception' must be exposed. Without equivocation, it can be noted that common sense has been brutally murdered in the corridors of power in Zimbabwe and idiocy is now rampaging with arrogant impunity. Dear Zimbabweans, the phalanx of degreed bandits /thugs (I mean real degrees and degrees in violence) ruining this country has reached the highest level of mediocrity.

It goes without saying that the students are an organized catalyst of social/democratic change in any country undergoing process of eroding authoritarianism. Students are a fundamentally important component in the Zimbabwean body politic. They constitute the largest reservoir of the critical mass. History is awash with cases where students fought tooth and nail to bring down dictatorship in their respective countries. In Serbia, Indonesia, Nigeria and needless to mention South Africa, students played a decisive role in liberating their countries from the bondage of ruthless and unbridled despotism.

In light of the above submissions, the government is eagerly waiting for the students to stage demonstrations and then the otherwise disgruntled police will be unleashed to provoke the peaceful protest. Knowing students from my humble experiences as a former student leader, these clashes will turn violent and the government will then find a justification to shut down all the major colleges/universities in Zimbabwe. The nation must be reminded of the 1998 demonstrations that rocked University of Zimbabwe and spread like a bush fire in the dry season to other colleges, in response the government closed the University. If the research conducted by ZINASU is anything to go by, then demobilization strategy is already in work. Pertinent data from the preliminary results shows that 31.5% students were forced out of school due to high fees. At Hillside Teachers College in Bulawayo there has been a drastic decrease of in take from the usual 600 student teachers to the unusual 200.

The police are equally disgruntled for the reason that they requested for 829.8 billion through their respective Ministry but the Minister of Finance allocated them a meager 180.4 billion translating to 21.7% allocation of their initial request. As a matter of fact, in the police, the budgetary implications have had a severe knock on morale and sustainability leaving the organization top heavy with no 'troops' to man the gates within their ranks. In contrast, hefty tax-free packages have been made available to Militia Groups and elements from the National Youth Service, both strictly controlled by the ruling party. The just and legitimate demand from the students for the government to allocate 26% of the total budget to the education sector as stipulated by UNESCO has transmogrified into a melodramatic nightmare.

The country is on fire, on 7 December 2006; the Ministry of Public Service & Social Welfare of the Government of Zimbabwe released a damning assessment of the crisis that has overshadowed the country since 2000. The report showed that standards of the living had dropped by 150% in the last decade. The nation continues to be engulfed in a deep seated and multifaceted socio-economic and political crisis. In an attempt to respond , the ruling party, ZANU PF had ' experienced with six different economic models since 1996: against stagnating agricultural production - the mainstay of the economy, shrinking manufacturing and declining mining and industrial output by 30% and still continuing. Significantly, while the productive sector has been shedding staff as a result of financial considerations the civil service has continued to recruit and expand. In other words, government expenditure has continued to increase while the taxable base has shrunk considerably. The result has been hyperinflation of anywhere near 1200% to 3670%, unemployment of over 75%, and an exodus of skilled and semi-skilled manpower into the Diaspora, severe foreign currency shortages leading to scarcity of basic commodities because of central prioritization.

Given such as a worrying state of the nation analysis, the students, being an organized centre of resistance are expected to provide alternative leadership to the nation desperate for a solution. Mr. Mugabe knows it. How can the students pay more than $700 000 in tuition and accommodation fees in state owned universities and colleges when most of the students are sons and daughters of poor peasantry farmers and civil servants who are also living way below the poverty datum line. Someone must be reminded of the term 'seriousness'.

However the real issue is not to accept that there is a problem, the real issue is to accept the challenge to fight and unearth the difficulty or the hidden solution. The students like any other citizen of Zimbabwe have endured enough pain and the endurance bowl is now spilling over. They will not resign to temptations of complacency and watch cowardly as the whole nation perishes. The discourse of academic freedoms is going to be the rallying cry for the students as they reclaim their place in the fight a robust political culture, where the interest of the last are put first. The SAVE OUR EDUCATION; SAVE OUR FUTURE campaign will feed into the broader democratic initiatives such as the Save Zimbabwe campaign. WE WILL VOTE IN 2008 .

Little by little, freedom will come

*Washington Katema is the former President of ZINASU.

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