Minister of High Education Nkandu Luo speaking to Journalists whilst Minister of General Education David Mabumba listens during the Joint Media Briefing at Ministry of High Education yesterday 14-01-2019. Picture by ROYD SIBAJENE/ZANIS
Minister of High Education Nkandu Luo speaking to Journalists whilst Minister of General Education David Mabumba listens during the Joint Media Briefing at Ministry of High Education

By Sishuwa Sishuwa

On 6 February 2019, Minister of Higher Education Professor Nkandu Luo announced that her ministry had with immediate effect stopped disbursing the stipend, popularly known as ‘meal’ allowance, paid to government-sponsored students in public universities for their upkeep. Luo said the move was necessitated by the need to extend the government’s financial assistance to students in other public universities and to make parents to share the cost of the education of their children. To avoid misrepresenting the reasons that Luo cited for the move, it is worth quoting her remarks at length:

“Given the fact that we have extended support to the other institutions, we are going to strictly restrict our support to tuition fees, accommodation and these will be paid directly to the institutions where the students are going to be studying so that we don’t have a situation where people are not able to pay for their tuition and their accommodation. Then the money to do with their books and projects is what will be paid directly to the students. So the new support that is going to start this year will not include pocket money popularly known as BC [meal allowance]. This way, we will have a shared responsibility between us and the parents of these children.”

Broadly speaking, there are three points to be said about Luo’s decision.

The first is that the Minister of Higher Education was less than truthful in explaining why the government is stopping the payment of students’ living allowances. Before examining this this point in detail, it is worth noting that the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Act Number 31 of 2016 expects the government to provide for a living allowance to eligible students in educational institutions of higher learning. Section 24 (1c) of this law stipulates that

  1. Subject to the provisions of this Act, a loan or scholarship granted to a student shall not exceed the aggregate of
    (a) the fees payable to the higher education institution per academic year;
    (b) a prescribed sum of money per academic year to assist in defraying the cost of books and other supplies required by the student in the student’s faculty or department at the higher education institution; and
    (c) a living allowance in the prescribed amount per academic year.
  2. The fees or other charges that are payable to a higher education institution by a student granted a loan or scholarship shall be paid by the Board directly to the institution.
  3. The Board shall, in granting a loan to a student, require repayment of the loan at such times within such periods as the Board may determine.

The Act further defines a ‘loan’ as “a loan granted to a student by the Board for the purpose of defraying the costs connected with the education at a local higher education institution, including costs connected with the board and lodging of the student for the purposes of attending the higher education institution”. Why then is the government taking away willy-nilly what the law expects it to provide as part of the student-financing loan scheme? The simple answer is that the government has run out of money because of its lack of fiscal discipline, careless debt contraction, loyalty to corruption and excessive extravagance. A lack of priorities in public expenditure (one that has recently seen the procurement of an extremely expensive aircraft for President Edgar Lungu, a fleet of high-priced cars for ministers and an exorbitant sojourn abroad for Esther Lungu and her entourage to engage in some kind of ‘vision nutrition’ in the USA – viewing four out-of-date firetrucks donated to her charity organisation by those who found them unsafe for use) alongside inflated costs in public procurement has left the government on the verge of collapse. The student meal allowance is simply the earliest casualty of this inexcusable wastefulness, perpetrated by a kleptocratic regime and some of the basest of us – a coterie of unscrupulous elite scumbags, hypocrites, kakistocrats, and scoundrels of all hues who somehow find themselves in power. The decay in the economy will only deteriorate, possibly triggering civil unrest, which might help to explain why Lungu and his friends in power are proactively making huge investments in police weaponry, not in Zambia’s greatest resource: people.

Our national plight and complex challenges call for a different kind of leadership, one that is competent, sufficiently educated, and in possession of clearly defined moral and ethical values – courage, compassion and love for fellow human beings, moral force of character, integrity, genuine humility, honesty, a predilection for consultation, consensus-building, communication, co-operation, active listening, and the selfless pursuit of the public good, and not the selfish striving for personal gain. It is hardly possible to look at Lungu’s Cabinet today without being struck by the calamity of the absence of this kind of leadership. Founding president Kenneth Kaunda once attempted to mould a national character built around the named leadership qualities, but we have since been starved of effective leadership (apart from the short-lived tenure of Levy Mwanawasa) that we have now forgotten what it looks like. The full character of the Zambian society has also changed: we have sunk so low that we can only rise. If we have a country where stealing begins from State House and extends to all manner of public servant, whatever the rank, then the problem runs deeper than bad leadership. We steal even when we absolutely have no need to – not that theft is ever morally justified – and pick out the very worst of our elements to govern us, even when better options are readily available. Ours is an underlying social moral cancer, one we will only cure at great pain to ourselves. I fear, sometimes, that we are becoming a country where a laissez-faire attitude to life has become the norm, one where when things get bad, people just party more, or pray more, or both. Turning the tide of this trend would require a mobilisation and union of energies, probably not seen since the struggle for independence, and a strong, compassionate and visionary leadership.

Nkandu Luo should have been truthful. Tough times are ahead for Zambians – not that these and the past times have been any easier. Our country is saturated with debt and our government has little to show for it. The consequences are now beginning to show. Clearly, much of the money borrowed has been wasted or stolen. Nevertheless, it will have to be repaid and I am afraid that government finances will become tighter, as we struggle to dismantle the mountain of debt that has formed since 2012. To illustrate: according to the 2019 national budget, the government is this year alone expected to spend K15 billion (K 15 trillion in old currency) on servicing external debt and K 8 billion on servicing domestic debt. As a result, public investment in social sectors like education, agriculture and health will decrease considerably, setting in motion a devastating process whose output will be a disease-ridden, impoverished and illiterate national population. Zambians, sadly, are not unfamiliar to these events and the fact that the actions of our government have brought us here again is sheer madness. If Zambia were a business company, she would have long been liquidated.

The second point to be said about Luo’s move is that her stated reasons for scrapping the living allowance are not persuasive for various reasons.

  • The need for additional scholarship loan schemes in new public universities cannot in itself be a reason for subtracting living allowances from the provisions made available in the present scholarship scheme. On the contrary, if the government establishes additional universities, they have an obligation to increase the number of scholarships proportionally, and not find the money by reducing the number of scholarships for University of Zambia (UNZA) and Copperbelt University (CBU) students and by cancelling meal allowances for all students, starting with this year’s intake.
  • Meal allowances should be an essential component of a scholarship, since attending university rests on various essential costs, of which tuition fees, accommodation and food are the most essential. This explains why the earlier cited definition of a loan includes ‘costs connected with the board and lodging of the student for the purposes of attending the higher education institution’. The phrase ‘board and lodging’ means food or meals and accommodation provided to an eligible beneficiary.
  • The claim that the move represents an attempt to make parents share the responsibility of educating their children with the government by making them pay food costs is laughably disingenuous, since parents are already contributing considerably by having to pay transport costs, food and accommodation during vacation, and miscellaneous living costs such as clothes and toiletries. In addition, the parents pay the opportunity cost of not having their offspring entering wage employment or assisting in the family farm or other enterprises. It is also worth noting that many children of this generation do not have parents. Those who are lucky have guardians, who have already taken over the government’s duty to look after the orphans (child welfare).
  • If present scholarships are means tested, then it follows that those who receive them have parents who cannot afford to send their children to university. This has the corollary that scholarships should include not only meal allowances but also the other expenses listed above that cannot be afforded by very poor families.
  • It is not even clear that meal allowances are a cost to government, since the present scholarship scheme is a loan scheme where the recipient is required to pay back the money to the government. But if students are subsequently unable to pay back the loans because they cannot find employment, this is directly the fault of the government, which has always justified expenditure on university education as an investment for future development. This means that government is supposed to control the number of university places to match the needs of the labour market. The current large number of unemployed graduates indicates that the government has overly expanded universities, has spent money it cannot afford, and now seems to be trying to find the money by starving the students. Given the above considerations, it becomes clear that the removal of meal allowances has no rational basis.

The final point is that Luo’s decision to take hungry students’ meals off the table could also be a result of her own entrenched but false belief that living allowances are responsible for student protests at public universities. (The actual cause of student protests is the delayed disbursement of living allowances and the frequent lack of clear communication between the government and the students when such is the case.) Unrepentant, and guided by this flawed thinking, the minister has had various run-ins with the students, and has previously taken action to unlawfully suspend the students’ union activities at UNZA and CBU, and also to divide UNZA into several colleges which would be administratively, academically and even geographically separated, apparently in a strategy of ‘divide and rule’. These considerations raise the question of whether the removal of living allowances is yet another step in Luo’s irrational and vindictive war against the university students, where the minister’s purpose is to physically punish the students and also to show them that she is the boss.

The minister’s action seems to be a further escalation of the long-standing and intermittent war between UNZA students and the government, which began as far back as 1967, where the government’s reaction to student protests takes the form of invasions of campus by militarised police to brutalise students, and also by long closures followed by exclusion of student leaders. The removal of living allowances may therefore be interpreted as a further extension of government terrorism, adding the new strategy of starving the students, presumably to reduce their energy in mounting protests and to force them into compliance or submission. Such a strategy may have exactly the opposite effect, thereby signifying government’s further descent into irrationality in dealing with students. The great irony of the situation is that this vindictive war against UNZA is being conducted by a minister who is a professor of the same university. As a professor of microbiology, Luo presumably has an expert knowledge of micro-organisms, but seems to have no understanding whatsoever of her fellow humans – not even their need for food.

I make an earnest appeal to the government and the wider public to prevail upon Luo to reverse the decision to withdraw the payment of students’ living allowances. Her action is ill-advised and likely to condemn generations of Zambians, especially the poor and mostly those in rural areas, to a subhuman and wretched existence underpinned by poverty, disease, superstition, ignorance, hunger, squalor, want, and ill health. Removing the living allowance that enabled so many Zambians to escape that fate through determination, chance and effort provides a guaranteed way of hoisting more numbers onto the already existing heap or mass of wasted talent.

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43 COMMENTS

    • Funny the advisor to the delusional dictator HH wants to change the subject after blunder after blunder this week by his demigod.
      It’s only UNZA and CBU that get meal allowances if am not mistaken. Other students in other public colleges don’t get this money. And clearly it has been a struggle for all governments to continue giving this allowance to students which has led to riots and destruction of both private and public property. Not to mention the delusional dictator was capitalizing on the said riots to cause bloodshed in the country.

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    • Exactly, its only in Zambia where we have tax payers money buying a fire fighting truck at US$1.00 million each. Zambia is unique!

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    • Education is the only equalizer. If Zambia puts a price to education, then only the few rich families will get education.
      Prof. Nkandu Luo is a Chibesakunda. Her education & access to scholarships is due to her privilege of being Mama Kankasa’s niece. What she forgets is that Zambia is poor due to poor leadership like MMD & PF under which she has served.

      Under PF:-
      – Education has collapsed with Universities being downgraded to college status
      – Farming sector has collapsed with failure by govt to pay farmers for their produce & failure to supply inputs whilst offering low price for maize
      – Health is in shambles – hospitals no drugs while ministers are being airlifted to South Africa’s Arwyp Hospital to treat broken arm.
      – Youth unemployment is a ticking time-bomb in spite a…

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    • CONT’D……………

      – Youth unemployment is a ticking time-bomb in spite a Vision-less man promising to create 2-million jobs.

      I advise the students to go the legal route, file an injunction & sue the state. The law is on their side.
      BC was enshrined into law bcoz we knew one day a f00l would one day wake up & say “no BC bcoz students are pompous”

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    • KK sent his kids to UNZA & other Zambian schools/colleges. He went to UTH for treatment.

      Greedy MMD & PF ministers send their kids to varsities in RSA, USA, UK & Europe. They don’t go to UTH for treatment. How or why do you expect them to care?
      There are 30 to 50 govt sponsored patients at Arwyp Hospital in Kempton park, Joburg. Fees are K30,000 per day excluding medication, operations, lab tests etc.

      As long as PF00Ls keep voting/rigging for PF, this routine will continue

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    • Let’s be real Luo has never studied at UNZA she is a product of Russian education hence the hate for not having made it to study there. One even questions her professorship. Check her publications

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    • Which country on earth does feed it students using tax payers? USA – students get loans (like BC in Zambia), in Nordic countries, education is free and students get loans from state for living allowance, In UK, students get loans. It’s global. Students depend on their governments

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    • Well its only in Zambia where one finds queer super precedents as well as super tolerance to denial of rights to receive education! It’s only in Zambia where a population settles contentedly for less while bordering nations strive for better and its only in Zambia where objective thinking is a major challenge! In Zambia diversity is recipe for violence and derogatory speech defines tact and intellect!

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    • I thought it was a loan, I went to university in the UK, so did my daughters, the student loans included maintenance and food. So what the hell are you talking about. In some countries, even Liberia under George Weah has introduced free university education.

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    • Before you reveal your ignorance, try to find out how other SADC countries are managing to pay for the students. In Botswana, the govt. gives bursaries to students in both Public and private institutions. Parents don’t pay anything. So what do you mean to say only in Zambia?

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    • There has always been those citizens who hate Uni students purely out of inferiority reasons.You will never find a Unza or CBU student posting the rubbish posted here by Own

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  1. LIKE HIM OR NOT, SISHUWA HERE IS RIGHT. THE PF GOVERNMENT SEEMS TO HAVE GONE ON RAMPAGE IMPOSING SANCTIONS UPON THE POOR ZAMBIANS FOR RAISING FUNDS TO PAY THE HEAVY DEBTS THEY HAVE INCURRED. THIS IS A SELF-INFLICTED SITUATION. I THINK IT IS NOT THE CORRUPTION SISHUWA IS TALKING ABOUT, BUT RATHER THE LACK OF A CLEAR-CUT VISION.

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    • Chanda
      The annoying thing is that it is only the people who have caused the destruction that are exempt from the consequences,they have even given themselves a salary rise,as they continue scooping the little left in the pot.

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  2. The issues Sishuwa should have raised are: would Prof. Luo have gotten her degrees from Russia if the meal allowance was not part of her scholarship. In addition, would President Lungu have gotten his law degree if the five star hotel type of meals that he was eating from the UNZA dining hall were not financed by government? For all we know, the President has told us the mother was a humble woman selling in the market. What about Dora Siliya and others in government who were also at UNZA and those who were at CBU? Would they have completed their university degrees without the meal allowance component? Would their lives not have been consigned to prostitution with sugar daddies for money without it? After all, do we not know what lifestyles they had whilst in the university?

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    • Bwana times are changing. The cost of university must be shared. Asking students to pay for their eating is not asking for too much. We should have started this 20 years ago. Establish lots of loan schemes including private ones.

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    • Zedoc
      You are proceeding from the premise that we are being ruled by a normal leadership,you are wrong.These are people who have no shame and no principles.Apart from that 90% of the lot are functional illiterates.Imagine Constable Chitotela not too long ago was even offering paying Kalu his Fifa debt of $110,000.The man cant even realise that people are watching,the great functional illiterate minister for Lusaka province also joined the queue,imagine falling all over each other to waste money…I remember during the MMD rule finding ministers fighting each other over who was going to buy the next round of Blue Label Scotch whisky at chrismar,these ones are worse

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  3. Let these so-called leaders in government introspect on the issues I have raised and ask themselves the question about where they would be now if the Russian and Zambian governments that paid for their meal allowances had not been able to pay for them. Zambian politicians should learn to be morally sensitive to the situation of others, especially those who are disadvantaged. The way President Lungu, Prof. Nkandu Luo and Dora Siliya expected support from government for their meal allowances when they were not in advantaged positions is the way children in disadvantaged positions expect support from government for their meal allowances. Luo, Lungu and Siliya should not think it is because their parents and themselves were and are more hardworking than other Zambians that they are in the…

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  4. …the privileged positions they are today. They also at some point in their lives had to depend on the support of others to get the education they have and be where they are today. Let them not pretend that it was all through their hard work. What does it mean for a PF government to be pro-poor if it can not extend government support in the form of meal allowances to disadvantaged children?

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  5. What we have in Zambia are self-serving leaders. It is an open secret that even some of those children who have gotten a 100% loan scheme are not double orphans. They are children of well-to-do parents who are well-connected to Nkandu Luo and several other people in government. These children themselves have been able to reveal this. There is a lot of corruption in the way the loan scheme is being administered from the Ministry of Higher Education. The more reason Nkandu Luo wants to have so much control over it. If some of the recipients of the loan scheme were to be followed up in terms of the homes they are coming from Zambians would get shocked.

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    • Thank God we have Zambians like you who have a heart for others and the country. How can any decent, caring, rational human being who cares for the human resource support these evil actions? I am not surprised we now have a country where greed, immorality, corruption are celebrated by those on the take and those that they share with and who gain from these evil acts. Any reasonable person should not be voting down the realities that you have so clearly made apparent.

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  6. Sishuwa is at it again. Those policies of UNIP sounded good, but look where they landed us! Freebies should completely be done away with. Whether home, in primary, secondary or universities one needs to eat. Therefore families of these children should contribute towards their children’s meals.
    Let us fight to get rid of corruption not continued freebies.

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    • They are not freebies, naimwe. They, including meal allowances, are Loans. Haven’t you read Dr Sishuwa’s article? You only rushed to commenting?

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  7. She has forgotten were she is coming from. Why be unfair to student whose parents cannot afford and most of these students are the ones excel in difficult field of study like Doctors, engineers and others. Those most your children who have money are just there wasting time for us and end up failing . Consider and restore BC. You have no shame because you went on free BC and if KAUNDA was like you i don’t know if you could had that education you have. Tell us more about your parents and we would like to know if they would have managed to sponsor you

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  8. This article was written by an educated FOOOL. Honestly is it only students From UNZA and CBU who drive the wheels of our economy? Does this donkey thinking educated Sishuwa know how many students are going to school in other higher learning institution in Zambia today compared to his godly UNZA? What about students from Mukuba university, Chalimbana, Evelyn Hone, Mulungushi, Nkrumah etc. We are students. Time of UNIP and MMD has changed. Grow up and be objective.

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    • Yaaba,Denkede
      I almost thought i was reading one of the write ups of Amos Chanda,full of invectives.
      Am sorry but just from your writing sir you give yourself away as someone of inferior education compared to Sishuwa,you see every society even Idi Amin’s Uganda in the seventies even Mobutu’s Zaire of the same time,all countries recognise high fliers in education.You want your creme de la creme to be treated the same way as the average ones sir.Sory it does not work that way,and save us from the insults……

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  9. When you keep on stealing, there comes a time that what you are stealing gets depleted. When that comes and you have salaries to pay, medicines to buy, roads to build and maintain, loans to pay, you begin to cut down on expenditures.

    You increase fuel costs to replenish the stolen money, you cut down on education support programs, you cut down medical supplies and finally, you fail to pay salaries.

    These are the effects of running a Kleptocracy.

    What is remaining now is to start stealing people’s shadows hoping to find markets for them.

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    • Kunda Kunda
      And it appears the only way of getting the PF cadres thinking is now,when the pot is empty they will now start fighting among themselves and finally those with half a brain will realise that this stealing is not sustainable,that is when the Leadership will be in problems,because the only advantage the Leader has is that they like the fact that they can steal and get away with it,when there is nothing to steal they will start questioning his suitability,especially if they cannot go for a ka Brian Mushimba massage in SA…

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  10. meals allowances has to remain just find better system of putting students on it the current is corrupt.

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  11. @The Engineer no. 1.6
    I checked Nkandu Luo’s publications on Google Scholar. I found 105 publications with her name.

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  12. There is no need here to address different questions. New student loans will be established through channeling of available funds albeit by using the meal allowance facility differently. The choice between tuition fees and food allowance is obvious: choose tuition fees. Meals represent a tiny fraction of the student loan. It would be better to prove that money channeled from meal allowances to student loans was embezzled. Anything short of embezzlement of student loans is ethical and moral. Ask the new beneficiaries of student loans for their opinion first. The vast majority would rather obtain loans to pay tuition fees than obtain loans for food. What quality are we talking about, anyway?

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  13. @mailonc
    This is laughable. Its this type of your thinking that made UNZA and CBU to monopolise the system. These universities have been increasing tuition fees knowing too well that government will pay for the students. How many students not on bursaries are at these universities? Did you know that these universities will not stand without bursaries? Spare us your ignorance and pride for nothing.

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  14. Day of reckoning is soon coming. Edgar Lungu and Nkandu Luo will soon be history in the politics of our country.
    VIVA CHANGE VIVA!

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  15. One thing I have discovered is people who are against meal allowance for students are those that have never passed through UNZA or CBU, these are loans, it’s not like students get the money for free. I benefited from these allowances and I don’t mind paying back the loan. The only reason the government squashed meal allowance for students is that the government is BROKE. You can not say the $42 million fire engines, $45 million toll gate, Ambulances, were more important than education. The difference between a fool and a wise man is in their decision making, education is the key to poverty reduction in Zambia and not prayer and fasting.

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  16. Those who have studied in the US will understand how the American students struggle to finance their studies. Some would work up to 8 hours a day and attend school between classes. In the US, the Government only sponsors ex- and serving military for service to the country, but it subsidizes colleges to offer work opportunities in the institutions. If someone is mindful of how government should spend money on students, he should actually go for the government to sponsor departments through research for students to access them, colleges to employ students on part-time jobs like in the libraries and for security, and finally put a stop to free meals and what-have-you. Most countries that offer free education have high per capita GDP of about $15,000, and probably fewer students attending…

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  17. The abolishement of meal allowance is long overdue . These students come from homes where their parents provide their meals .Parents should at least meat this expense. Unza and cbu are not the only universities in this country any more. Infact students at UNILUS,ZCAS,etc have a right to access students loans because their parents also pay taxes as well.
    Infact government should stop this students loans to government universities if it is not open to private universities students because they are also Zambian and with a a right to education as well.

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  18. The way it is in zambia is that the rich get more richer and the poor get
    As. Well more poorer.in Zambia there is no support for each other,the rich are the one benefiting only .just know this that when you where a student at unza u survived through this same meal allowances
    to be where u are ,but u are making the lives of your friends vry difficult know that the measure u use is the same which will return back to u one day.u came with nothing u will also go empty .you will die living earthly things so let us have equal rights.apart from that in employment u only give your dull relative leaving the eligible persons who are suitable for the job behind.any one will say foolish things to this comment is maxolokonso lunatikika idiosolonto

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