Zimbabweans in deep despair

April 16, 2004

Poor pay, corruption, inadequate government funding, student unrest and high staff turnover are taking their toll on Zimbabwe University.

A month-long strike by lecturers and other workers at the university ended in a return to work with demands unmet and the issue unresolved.

Moses Tekere, a senior lecturer at the university, said the situation stemmed from the country's economic and political climate.

He said it indicated the fundamental problems afflicting Zimbabwe and warned that addressing the university's crisis in isolation would not work because it was "the whole fabric that's in a crisis".

"We need a holistic approach to deal with all the issues affecting the country. Only then can we deal with issues affecting the university," he said. He added that all the key movers were leaving the university.

Hillary Mukwenha, a former head of Zimbabwe's business school now teaching in the UK, said most of his former colleagues had left because they were frustrated in their jobs. "The government needs to retain the experienced teachers and improve the learning environment so we can start improving standards," Mr Mukwenha said.

Another lecturer, who did not want to be named, said morale was falling at the university by the day and that many lecturers had remained at the university only because it enabled them to carry out private consultancy without being checked up on.

"I just cannot believe how I'm making it to the next month," he said. "The salaries are pathetic and conditions worsening by the day. The government must really give priority to issues affecting the institution and not make things political to punish us."

The government's decision to pull out of the Commonwealth after its suspension for alleged vote rigging and a poor human rights record might affect the standing of qualifications obtained by Zimbabweans, which have so far been recognised among member states.

Student Tapiwa Pfari said: "It is really difficult not only for the lecturers but for students as well. We keep hanging on because we are poor and cannot afford to go to other expensive universities outside the country. Not being able to go for classes at times is so painful, but what can we do? We desperately need the education and have no choice but to stick it out."

Sandra Nyaira is former political editor of The Daily News and 2002 winner of the International women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award.

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