It is with great pleasure that I address you here today. I say great pleasure because the party I lead, the MDC, has a special relationship with the student movement. It is the student movement, the labour movement and the constitutional movement that founded the MDC in 1999. So when I come here, I know I am among friends, among the stakeholders of the party I lead.
Students have a special place in the heart of the party and that is why some former student leaders have over the years occupied high positions in the party. As a party, we value the youth, we value the student movement as a key stakeholder in the founding ethos and the envisioning of the new Zimbabwe that we week.
So I am happy to be here.
The national crisis
I want to start by saying the country is currently facing a huge crisis; a crisis of the economy; a crisis of expectation due to the many unfulfilled promises but most importantly, a crisis of leadership. The current leadership of government has chosen to ignore the multi-layered crisis facing the people; it is choosing instead to focus on the issue of the succession issue of our 92-year old President, whose age is a crisis unto itself!
Everything has been tucked at the backseat of government attention as everyone in the party in government looks at how to poise themselves to succeed Mugabe.
I will talk about the challenges facing students later, but those challenges cannot be divorced from the acute national crisis that we all face. Students are part of the general population of the country. They are Zimbabwean too and their challenges reflect the monumental crisis that we all face. There are no jobs, the economy has collapsed, and the government is mired in debt while policy inconsistency especially over the controversial issue of indigenization, has firmly shut the doors of any prospective investment into the country. Yes, the people must be empowered but we do not have to burn the whole house down!
As I speak to you the whole country is facing starvation and no sufficient resources have been mobilized to address this key the challenge. In the middle of all this suffering, the President tells us that $15 billion of diamond revenue has simply disappeared without trace. This is the same thing we were telling him when we were in government and he was not listening to us. But now the chickens have come home to roost.Only in nearby South Africa, President Zuma is in trouble over the US$16 million that he used at his Nkandla home. There is outcry over that money but here, a whole country is in muted silence over billions of dollars that cannot be accounted for. That is the national challenge that we all face; this conspiracy of silence even in the middle of this huge, unmitigated man-made crisis!
So the challenges that we all face are a reflection of this national crisis that we have to confront collectively as a people.
We are in an unmitigated crisis and the facts tell a very grim story---a country with 90 percent unemployment, 14 million people facing starvation, policy consistency in government, a 92 year old President who wants to die in office, an external debt of over $10 billion and a fearful people who can’t utter a word over this sad national predicament. That is the sum total of our national challenge and I would add that the fearful lot also includes energetic, bright young students at our country’s universities who are too lily-livered to confront the political cause of their sad predicament!
I am aware of the challenges facing our students at tertiary colleges and universities. Only last month, I was addressing students at the MSU campus in Zvishavane and I am aware of the challenges that you all face.
They range from overcrowding due to inadequate accommodation, high tuition fees ranging from $500 to $1 400 per semester, inadequate lecture halls, a politicized administration and the victimization of student activists.
I know many students across the country have dropped out, even though affordable education was one of the country’s prime achievements after independence. Here at the University of Zimbabwe, I am well aware of the rot, including a ridiculous ill-fated attempt to force students to pay parking fees! Academic freedom is under threat while the administration has been heavily politicised by a party and government whose head is also the chancellor of all universities.
After all, this is the same university where the chancellor’s wife is said to have acquired a doctorate in murky and very suspicious circumstances that threaten the very standards and credibility of our prime institution of higher learning.
The rot here and at all our universities and tertiary institutions is just but a mirror of the national rot. I am also aware that most female students have resorted to prostitution and other immoral means to survive. This is indeed a national shame because university education must be affordable. After all, education is a basic right under our new Constitution.
I want to conclude by leaving you a challenge. Rights will never be voluntarily given to you, especially by this government. Rights will have to be demanded.
As students, you must not look at your problems in isolation. They are part and parcel of the national rot under this clueless party in government.
It must be made clear to everyone that all these challenges we face are a reflection and a consequence of the crisis of legitimacy stemming from the stolen election of 2013. No one can do business with a bunch of thieves masquerading as a government.
The only credible way forward for all of us as a collective is to ensure that we usher in a legitimate government at the next election. Any government must be a product of a free, fair, peaceful and credible election.
We must all join hands in demanding not only the implementation of the Constitution, but also the institution of far-reaching reforms to ensure that the next election does not breed yet another uncontested outcome.
As students, you represent the future of the country. You are the leaders of tomorrow. But the leaders of tomorrow cannot just stand idle while tomorrow is under siege from the men and women of yesterday.
Ahoy mastudents ahoy!