Zimbabweans watch #FeesMustFall with admiration, envy

2015-10-23 08:47
File: AFP

File: AFP

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Harare - In a country where riot police have routinely crushed demonstrations, some Zimbabweans are watching South Africa's #FeesMustFall student protests with admiration and something approaching envy.

Students have tried to protest at the main University of Zimbabwe (UZ) several times in recent years but riot police are always quick to arrive on the scene.

During Zimbabwe's years of political and economic turmoil, which peaked in 2008, police rigidly enforced the tough Public Order and Security Act (POSA) which said that those wanting to hold protests had to get police permission first.

Those who did not often had to face police truncheons, arrest and imprisonment.

Tweeted @MaSibandah: "People are like why can't we as Zimbos do the same [as SA students]? Listen if these protests were happening here they would have released live ammo on us."

Said @gerald_tg: "Last sem[ester] there was only a rumour about a protest by UZ and within an hour riot [police] had already mobilised."

'A mad man at university'

One Zimbabwean posted a widely-re-tweeted photo of an armoured anti-riot personnel carrier holding helmeted Zimbabwean riot police, with the caption: "This truck ended the protest before it even started at UZ. LOL."

But some on social media stressed that Zimbabwean student leaders had taken the authorities head-on in protests, particularly before the post-2000 crisis.

Arthur Mutambara, who served as deputy prime minister during the 2009-13 coalition government, led several protests during the late 1980s and early 1990s and was arrested and imprisoned. Long-time president Robert Mugabe later referred to him as "a mad man at university".

Opposition spokesperson Learnmore Jongwe also led student protests during food riots in 1998. (He died in prison in 2002 where he was being held for the murder of his wife).

Insinuations that Zimbabweans are cowards have been fiercely rejected.

"Don't tell us about cowardice when you yourself hold your breath when you drive past State House," tweeted one Twimbo, as Zimbabweans on Twitter are known. State House is Mugabe's official residence in central Harare, closely guarded by armed officers who have been known to beat up those who stray too near.

Revolutionary moment

"If you think a protest will achieve anything in Zim, other than getting yourself Dzamara'd, you're delusional," tweeted ‏@stuntuya.

Journalist-turned-activist Itai Dzamara was abducted from a barber's shop in March and has not been seen since. He had been holding a one-man protest against Mugabe's rule in central Harare's Africa Unity Square. The opposition says Mugabe's government is responsible for his disappearance.

"We know what happens when you try [to protest]" said @Raszen, suggesting that those who are unhappy with the status quo simply leave for the diaspora. Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans are believed to have done just that in the last 15 years, heading for South Africa mostly, but also the UK, Canada and other countries.

Others watching #FeesMustFall from across the Limpopo have put into words the admiration that many Zimbabweans are feeling. "For the sake of progress, I think every generation needs a revolutionary moment. Our SA counterparts are having theirs," wrote @VaNdlovu.

Online conversations have also turned to a discussion of the fees for Zimbabwe's 10 state universities, which are vastly cheaper than those in South Africa. A semester's fees for a bachelors degree (not in medicine or law) can be around $600.

Those relatively low costs may not last forever. The authorities hinted earlier this year that state universities could soon be instructed to raise their own revenue to pay for their staff, signalling a likely rise in fees.

Read more on:    robert mugabe  |  zimbabwe  |  education  |  university fees  |  southern africa  |  protests

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