We will ensure that no varsity students drop out
Zimbabwe Congress of Students Union (Zicosu) president Wilbert Muzaruwetu, who is also vice president of the Students’ Representative Committee, explains the issues affecting students in an interview with the Daily News on Sunday. Excerpts:
Q. Fees for tertiary institutions have gone up, accommodation costs have shot through the roof, what is your position on the issue as a students’ representative body?
A. Inflation in the country is affecting everything and everyone.
There are levels that are within the parameters of our control and those that leave room for little negotiation.
We are still appealing to the responsible authorities, we have engaged in countless negotiations for fees.
We worked with different quotations for food prices, and the amount of money that was needed is above what we expected.
Food is a priority, it is necessary, and it must be of nutritional value.
We have various stakeholders that chipped in to assist and it is the least that we could do, even though we are still engaging to help the cause of the students.
Q. What measures is Zicosu prepared to take if the government remains adamant on addressing this and other issues affecting students?
A. We are currently taking measures which are within the law. Measures are already being taken.
As Zicosu we are not just sitting and watching and had it not been for the horizontal dialogue with the government, prospects of hoping to even think of tertiary education were reduced and it was going to affect the education culture that has been consistently cultivated among Zimbabweans.
We are trying to avoid a situation where varsity students drop out and go to the streets and start selling drugs or get involved in dangerous deals to make a living.
That has been our argument; we want education to be affordable as this will impact the economy.
We are in the process of requesting 10 hectares from the UZ farm that has over 203 hectares.
Students will now produce food to reduce the cost of commodities that are sourced from outside.
Q. There are students who have dropped from university or are now deferring because they cannot meet the fees requirements, what would you suggest should be done to assist them to attain their education goals?
A. So far we are trying to get the statistics on students who are deferring; we have not received letters so far.
I am appealing to the students to contact us before the universities open, so that we can actually write letters to the responsible authorities and the government.
We reached a deal that students must not be punished, they must not suffer due to the economic situation, which is being addressed at a difficult time, and as I have stated, we have reached a deal with government that no one must drop out … unless the government does not honour our agreement, which is highly unlikely.
Q. Some students have said that they are going to protest, what is your view on this kind of action?
A. It is their democratic right but let us not forget that everything has been pegged according to the black market rates. I think we should protest against those who are involved in such dealings as this has affected our education.
If the universities controlled the economic situation I would say exercise those rights against them.
If the government is the one involved in black market dealings, I would still say those rights should be exercised against them.
The question is protesting against who, what time and where. I am also a student and I ask myself the same question.
Q. Are you satisfied with what government is doing to support tertiary education?
A. As human beings, as rational beings and as complicated beings we are never satisfied, even the government is not satisfied, there are circumstances which make us push for a certain measure.
We are a work in progress, I cannot lie that we are satisfied; if we were satisfied we would not engage the government.
Q.Accommodation shortages are affecting most students, what would you suggest as the solution to this?
A. It is astonishing that we are building beautiful research centres at the same time the students who are the researchers live under squalid conditions, they travel long distances, and their security is compromised.
So the first task is to research on how to build suitable accommodation for students.
We cannot research theories that are not in reality with our practical lives. Institutions must build new student residences, the polytechnics have done that and we are lagging behind. We are asking the government to chip in to improve infrastructure as these are state universities.
Q. How best would you describe the opening of the first semester amid all these problems?
A. Problems are there, but at the University of Zimbabwe we are taught to be positive and be the solutions.
We have brilliant students, internationally recognised.
Zupco is there to ease the transport woes, student loans are being availed, and as Zicosu we are there.
We will be conducting social functions, sports, recreational activities, to raise funds and assist more students.
Q. You have been for long accused of being aligned to Zanu PF, is this true?
A. Everyone is innocent unless proven guilty with evidence that is beyond any reasonable doubt. We have also been accused of being monkeys; these are just mere preposterous accusations.
We are aligned to the nation, and the government that has national interests.
We are aligned to the Constitution, and we are aligned to the rule of law.
Everyone is involved. If we received directives from Zanu PF or MDC there was no need to call it Zicosu or Zinasu.
We receive directives from students.
Q. What plans does the new crop of Zicosu have to improve conditions in tertiary institutions?
A. The main plan is to deliver and improve our conditions, to be competitive institutions, and to ensure there is a smooth enjoyable learning process that creates room for innovation and hybrid students.
This semester we hope to fix the food problems to ensure that there are no students dropping out.
We continue to inform students about loans, availability of Internet and monitor technological developments at the institutions, and hold HIV and Aids campaigns among other things.