INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: University of Zimbabwe Reopens but Students

Published: Thu 24 Apr 2003 06:19 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 000784
SIPDIS
DEPT FOR AF/S RAYNOR, AF/PDPA DALTON, ECA/A/S/A PIVES,
APRINCE, JFRISBIE, ECA/A/E/AF AMARTIN
ACCRA FOR REAC NKETEKU
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO OEXC SCUL
SUBJECT: UNIVERSITY OF ZIMBABWE REOPENS BUT STUDENTS
ARE SLOW TO RETURN
REF: A: HARARE 781
B: HARARE 752
C: HARARE 729
1. The University of Zimbabwe (UZ) officially re-
opened Tuesday April 22, 2003 and most professors
returned to work. Many students, however, have yet to
arrive on campus, delaying the start of classes. The
Ministry of Higher Education closed UZ in February
2003 in response to a strike by academic staff. No
regularly scheduled classes or exams have taken place
since November 2002, when the faculty members began
the strike in protest against low salaries and lack of
benefits.
2. The Ministry of Higher Education announced on
Thursday April 17 that all University of Zimbabwe
academic staff would be granted a retention allowance
valued at 30% of their salaries. This allowance is to
be backdated to January 2003. The 30% retention
allowance was promised to all lecturers during
negotiations in December, but was at first only
granted to staff at the Medical School and not to
other departments. The Association of University
Teachers (AUT, the collective bargaining unit for
university academic staff) discovered in February 2003
that the retention allowance was only paid to Medical
School staff. AUT members outside of the Medical
School then refused to give undergraduate lectures to
protest the salary discrepancy. The Ministry of
Higher Education responded by closing down UZ and
threatening to fire and replace all the striking
academics.
3. After announcing the 30% retention allowance,
University of Zimbabwe Vice-Chancellor Levy Nyagura
proclaimed that classes would resume on Tuesday April
22 (after the long Easter holiday weekend) and that
all students and staff should plan to return to
campus. Nyagura explained that a revised schedule
would be implemented in order to make up for class
time missed since the university was shut down in
November 2002. Classes will now be held from April 22
until May 5 when exams originally scheduled for
December 2002 will be held. The second semester will
begin on May 19 with classes running until the middle
of July and final examinations ending in early August.
The next academic year will begin in September,
switching UZ back to an American-style school
calendar.
4. Press reports on April 23 indicated that although
many teachers returned to campus, most students did
not. Classes therefore did not resume April 22 as
most lecture hall seats were empty. Some students may
not have heard that the campus had reopened and
classes resumed, as a large number of UZ students come
from rural areas of Zimbabwe with limited access to
news. Other students have undoubtedly been delayed by
transport problems. The price of fuel more than
doubled in Zimbabwe last week (Ref B), causing
commensurate changes in bus fares. Some students may
not have the money on hand to pay for the long journey
to Harare. Others may simply be unable to find a
functioning bus, as Zimbabwe's severe fuel shortages
continue despite the price increase. Finally,
politics may play a role in student attendance. The
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) called for a
3-day stay-away this week to protest against the fuel
price hike (Ref A). Some university students may be
staying home in solidarity with the ZCTU protest.
5. Comment: The Government of Zimbabwe seems to have
appeased the UZ professors' salary demands, at least
in the short term. However, contacts at the
university have told us that conditions are now ripe
for student unrest and that further disruptions to the
semester are likely. Most students receive loans from
the government to cover tuition, accommodation, and
living expenses. After paying their fees to the
university, they are left with about z$60,000 (about
US$43 at current market rates) per year to pay for
food, transport, books, and other expenses. This
means that a student is expected to live on z$5000
(about US$3.50) per month. Bread, for example, now
costs z$300 per loaf. A medium-sized pizza is z$2000.
A round-trip bus ticket to Harare's high-density
suburbs costs over z$1000. A weekly newspaper costs
z$500. It is clear that students will be hard-pressed
to survive on z$5000 per month, and student protests
to demand higher government stipends are possible.
End Comment.
SULLIVAN
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