Students suffer abuses

Open letter to Tony Blair, Chairman, European Union From the Student Executive Council, University of Zimbabwe Sir - We have no doubt you are aware of the political, social and economic challenges

facing our country and our people. We are confident that you know the gross human rights abuses that are perpetrated on our people by the government of Zimbabwe. As students and student leaders at the University of Zimbabwe we have not been spared by this ruthless and thuggish regime. Our concerns have been constantly ignored and any efforts to get them addressed either through dialogue or demonstrations have been severely squashed. We have suffered systematic torture, detention, arrest, wanton clobbering of innocent students by anti-riot police, all resulting in the deprivation of our fundamental right to education. As a microcosm of Zimbabwean society, our concerns reflect the problems faced by the country at large. Even where our problems are particular to students, the government has reacted with unprecedented heavy handedness as fears that student unrest on campus may spill over into the nation. The government has turned even academic issues political, heavily deploying state security agents and anti-riot police on campus creating a near war zone situation. Realising the urgent need to maintain control of the university the Mugabe regime has appointed a well-known government apologist as vice-chancellor, Professor Levi Nyagura. He has unleashed a reign of terror, mismanaging the university and bringing it into total disrepute. Arbitrary suspensions have become the order of the day. The man has suspended over 40 students since he came into office. Freedom of expression, association and movement have been severely curtailed on campus, with student leaders not allowed to address more than two students and prevented from visiting residential areas on campus. The present leadership has been the target of this systematic victimisation. Our president Hentchel Mavuma was expelled in unclear circumstances, and four of our members Mfundo Mlilo, Collen Chibango, Garikai Kajau and Wellington Mahohoma were suspended twice in a single semester. We have been arrested with no charges levelled, tortured, detained on five different occasions. We have been hauled to a student disciplinary hearing on four different occasions on frivolous charges and the university has consistently failed to find us guilty. In a bid to render us ineffective, we have been removed from student residence and catering services. This has rendered us destitute and made it difficult for us to attend lectures and carry out our SEC business. The university has some 12,900 students but can only afford to accommodate about 4,000. With operation murambabtsvina having destroyed scores of backyard structures, many of which housed about 8000 students, the problem has been much more complex. Hundreds of students are now sleeping in common rooms on the floor, in TV rooms and some in the chapel. The toilets are malfunctioning and sewage water oozes along corridors everywhere. The university staff complement is pathetic  with less than 240 lecturers instead of the requisite 1,200. There are no books in the library, and a class of over 700 students has to use less than five books. The University administration has recently seized the Students Union building that was donated to the students by the people of England through the benevolence of the Queen. It is the social and political centre for the students, houses the largest dining hall on campus and is the traditional venue for serving lunch to non-residents. The students union building also houses offices of the Students Executive Council (SEC), and has affordable services like photocopying, phone shops and typing for students. The closure of the building has meant that the SEC has operated for over a year without identifiable offices. By international standards our university has been reduced to a disgrace. We believe you have the power to influence positive changes in our country and university. We have petitioned the Zimbabwean minister of higher education on some of these issues with no response. Yours in defence of student rights Signed: Mfundo Mlilo (Info and publicity), H W Mavuma (President), C Chibango (Vice), G Kajau (Sec-general), W Hahohoma (Legal), T Murai (Sports) and T Chitekwe (Transport)

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