THE Zambia National Students’ Union (ZANASU) has revealed that political interference partly led to students’ demonstrations at the University of Zambia (UNZA) and the Copperbelt University (CBU).
And University of Zambia Students Union (UNZASU) president Jones Mwewa said the union advised students against such demonstrations but they did not listen.
ZANASU president Humphrey Mwenya said at a press briefing in Lusaka yesterday that the riot was caused by only a few people and that 10 students, as said by Minister of Higher Education Michael Kaingu, cannot cause the 22,000 students at UNZA and more than 13,000 at CBU to suffer.
“We want to agree with the minister that external forces may have been at play, the majority of students on the material days were fully engaged in academic activities and they were just caught up in the fracas when the police stormed the hostels,” Mr Mwenya said.
He said the closure of the two institutions is unfortunate and has disturbed the students’ studies.
The Government closed the two higher institutions of learning last week on Thursday after students rioted over partial payment of meal allowances.
UNZA students who preferred anonymity said they were paid meal allowances amounting to K1, 200 and there was a balance ranging between K600 and K1,100 depending on one’s entitlement. UNZA students get meal allowances ranging between K1, 800 and K2, 200 depending on one’s period of stay on campus.
The students confirmed that they had been paid partly for the three weeks that they had been at the campus, however, the protest was sparked by students who had acquired Mecer laptop computers on credit for K3,500.
When Government made payment into the students’ accounts, the creditor deducted their money directly from the students’ accounts as per agreement, leaving some of them with K100 only or nothing.
President Lungu said Government will not be coerced into re-opening UNZA and CBU until students show maturity in their approach to issues.
And Mr Mwenya said it is important that Government and the students at the two universities dialogue on the matter of allowances instead of resorting to closing the institutions.
He said the issue of students’ allowances will always pose a challenge if Government does not ensure smooth flow of credible and reliable information.
“High learning institutions are a very cardinal aspect in national development and Government should address matters affecting students without delay as doing so is the source of student strife,” Mr Mwenya said.
He appealed to Government to open the two highest institutions of learning to preserve funds that have already been paid to students as it remains a cost for both Government and students.
Mr Mwenya has also called on Government to speed up the introduction of student loans, saying this will help curb student riots.
He said Government must also enhance the communication channels and ensure coherence to the promises made to students.
“The police must also have better ways of curbing protests because our experience is that they actually fuel violence when they come in with maximum force extending to the hostels,” he said.
And Mr Mwewa, the UNZASU president, alleged that the protest was not entirely carried out by students but that other residents in the university surroundings participated in the fracas.
Mr Mwewa said he was pleased that no damage was caused to motor vehicles and other property.