Student activism gone to the dogs

Lonias Rozvi Majoni
Student activism in Zimbabwe is lying on a sickbed. This is because genuine activism for the furtherance of students’ welfare has been diluted and sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

In fact, it is not mere dilution: student activism was poisoned by the emergence of the opposition MDC, which saw some at the core of the party being drawn from student leadership of the day.

It was at that time that the kind of kindergarten activism now apparent at most higher institution started.

Today, Zimbabwean students’ activism has gone deeper in the doldrums. The two students main wings – Zinasu and Zicosu – seem to have been completely engulfed in factional fights which have rocked the main political parties in Zimbabwe: Zanu- pf and MDC.

The contagion effect of votes of no confidence, patronage appointments, expulsions and suspensions that have rocked the mother political parties is now being felt even in student bodies with even staff members at those institutions being instigators of such myopic acts.

It is such myopic acts that have nurtured to students unions/parties with a very limited lifespan that clearly serves no purpose except rendering institutions of higher learning not only as an unfortunate rendezvous for all sorts of vices.

Just as the ongoing political party fights have diverted attention from various national core issues, threatening the smooth existence of the nation, the student activism of today has similarly caught the same bug thereby relegating to the periphery real issues affecting students at institutions of higher learning in the country.

Controversial and incompetent leaders who were trusted with the responsibility to captain fellow students have driven the students’ ship into an abyss. For instance, while the formation of Zicosu was a noble cause needed to neutralise the self-indulgent Zinasu, the student body has been turned into a sham by questionable leadership, which does not advance the cause of students.

A typical example is the current Zicosu secretary-general, Tinashe Mashambo, who has already graduated but still masquerades as a bona fide student leader. Another student leader with dubious credentials is Tonderai Chidawa, who is the president of Zicosu and is known for perennially failing with a record of seven years at Bindura University trying to complete a three-year degree programme.

The two student leaders have on numerous occasions been accused of many vices including misappropriating union funds, gross incompetence and sexually abusing fellow union female cadres.

Efforts to curtail their nefarious activities have also been unsuccessful as the leaders have mastered the art of intimidating fellow students by linking themselves to certain national leaders. These student leaders have turned themselves into “untouchables” as they are also feared by administrators. It is shocking that Chidawa had the temerity to assault a University of Zimbabwe security guard.

The activities of both Chidawa and Mashambo have sadly distanced most students from Zicosu, who view the students body as lacking seriousness and motivated more by settling personal scores instead of advancing students’ grievances and issues.

Worse things have also happened in the MDC-aligned Zinasu where students were shocked when people with dubious academic and personal history were imposed in the executive at their congress held last year.

It is bewildering how someone like Alistair Pfunye from the Midlands State University, who was suspended in 2013, could have been elected into the executive while his suspension was still subsisting? The same applies to Makomborero Haruzivishe, who was imposed as secretary-general while still serving suspension at the University of Zimbabwe.

The worst development is the election of Zivani Mhetu, a Harare-based businessman in his early thirties who has a knack for losing MDC national posts but has finally found home in student politics.

The major malaise that has embedded itself in student politics is the failure to extricate themselves from the contagion effect of what is happening in their mother parties. Even the staff members at those institutions seem to have also been afflicted by the malaise. A typical example is the unprocedural endorsement of a suspension of this writer by the University of Zimbabwe Dean of Students Dr Madambi. The suspension was communicated through WhatsApp close to midnight by one of the executive members.

Spirited efforts to contact the dean for the whole exercise to be carried out in a proper formal and procedural manner were rebuffed as he seemed to identify with the other group of students calling themselves “Weevils”.

Principles of natural justice entail that one must be given a chance to defend himself or herself before judgment is passed. A proper disciplinary hearing must be constituted before suspending any member of the executive. All this was not done, setting a very wrong precedent in terms of dealing with issues of internal contradictions.

It is therefore not in doubt that the comic drama taking place at most institutions of higher learning is evidence of the comatose state of genuine student activism in the scountry.

It is also not in doubt that students’ politics has lost direction in that students’ leaders are now obsessed with settling personal scores amongst themselves instead of articulating students grievances and other national issues. Students must be the vanguard of the nation as they are the mirror of society.

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