Three University of Zimbabwe graduates on Thursday stunned President Mugabe and other senior government officials when they staged surprise protests during this year’s graduation ceremony demanding jobs.
The government, as represented by Jonathan Moyo, the Higher and Tertiary Education minister, is threatening to withhold their degrees as punishment for this brazen act. The trio of Alex Mukamba, Tonderai Dombo and Tembinkosi Rushwaya, which was later taken to court and fined $10 each for public nuisance, however, stand by their action saying there was nothing wrong with demanding employment creation in the country.
Despite toiling to obtain degrees and other scholarly qualifications, a majority of university and college graduates in Zimbabwe are failing to secure employment. Many of them have turned to street vending and other menial jobs to survive.
Mukamba, who was studying political science, said it was necessary to challenge Mugabe and his ministers so that they know things are not well for the majority of graduates in the country.
“We were graduating but there is really nothing to celebrate. Each year thousands of graduates are churned out but there is no employment for them. Last year alone we had about 17 000 graduates from about nine universities without adding people from polytechnics and other vocational colleges. Of that number, very few are getting employed; it seems we are celebrating unemployment,” he said.
“Those government officials facilitating the graduation ceremonies are living good lives and they can afford to send their children to universities outside the country. What we did on Thursday was a voice against the government demanding an environment where graduates are employed. We are suffering and we shouldn’t act as if everything is normal.”
Mukamba said it was disheartening that parents and guardians strived to send their children to universities but after completing studies, they still needed to fend for them as the graduates were failing to secure employment.
He said his protest was driven by sad realities of the current economic situation that was affecting most graduates in the country.
“Poverty is what is pushing us to do this. Personally, my parents had to sell household property so that I could finish my studies but after graduation I still have to look up to my mother for everything. That is painful because I should be able to look after my parents after graduation,” he said.
Former student leader Dombo said Mugabe must be reminded that things are not normal in the country and he has to act.
“The economic situation in the country pushed me to do what I did on Thursday. Truly, there are no prospects of getting employment as many companies are closing each passing day. With that in mind, you get to a point as an individual of saying ‘I need to stand up and say it to the Chancellor himself’,” Dombo said.
“As a former student leader I felt obliged that I should represent the students I have been leading. The majority of them are fearful to tell the authorities that things are not normal. I realised that someone needed to stand up because keeping silent on such matters makes no sense. We have to speak out against the few elites who have access to the country’s resources. We cannot keep silent when we have been reduced to living like baboons or other wild animals,” he said.
Dombo said a majority of brilliant youngsters were failing to make it into university because of poverty and for the fortunate few who managed, life was becoming unbearable as they were failing to secure employment.
He said his protest was not influenced by any political party or civic organisation, but by the genuine plight of the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe.
Dombo also said he was not afraid of Mugabe’s regime, which he said thrived on corruption and instilling fear in the citizens.
He also took a dig at Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo who threatened to withhold their degrees.
Rushwaya told The Standard that if Moyo withheld their degrees, they would also write to universities he studied at to ask them to strip him of his qualifications.
He said the reaction by government had shown that they received the message and therefore they need to act on it.
The government of Zimbabwe stands accused of being responsible for the alarming unemployment levels in the country.
Zimbabwe Coalition of Unemployed Graduates (ZCUG) said the government needed to be pushed so that they rectified the situation on the ground.
“What Dombo and others did is very important in reminding the president that people are graduating to be come. That was a very important stance which also sends a message to the international community that Zimbabwean citizens are living as paupers. The majority of parents and guardians are struggling to send their children to university so that they have a better life but upon completion of studies there is a sad reality of unemployment. Mugabe has just failed,” ZCUG coordinator, Howard Madya said.
Co-coordinator of ZCUG, Samuel Meso weighed in, saying graduands at all universities must stand up against Mugabe’s ruinous policies.
“The stance taken by Dombo and others at the University of Zimbabwe graduation ceremony should be embraced by all graduands. The wave should spread to other institutions so that we send a clear message. We cannot continue to watch as this government displays lack of political will to provide jobs. Speeches do not bring jobs,” he said.
In February this year, Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (Viset) revealed that more than 2 000 university graduates in Harare and Bulawayo alone had resorted to street vending as the economy continued to dwindle in a report titled Unemployment and Economic Shrinkage: From University to the Street.