Can collective punishment be justified? Letter to CBU Vice-Chancellor

CBU Jambo Drive Campu
CBU Jambo Drive Campu
CBU Jambo Drive Campu
CBU Jambo Drive Campu

Dear Vice-Chancellor,

I write in relation to media reports that the institution that you lead, the Copperbelt University (CBU), has directed all returning students to pay K 1, 500 as a penalty for alleged damage to property that occurred when a number of students protested, for whatever reasons, earlier this year. Why does the university think that collective punishment is justified? Are all students accused of participating in the destruction of property?

While I do not in any way condone the behaviour of students who are suspected to have damaged property, I also do not support the decision to punish all the students for the behaviour of the unknown few because doing so is against the rule of law and violates Part III of the Constitution of Zambia on the protection of fundamental rights and the freedoms of the individual. Article 18 (8) of the Constitution, which deals with protection of law, stipulates that ‘No person shall be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and the penalty is prescribed in a written law’.

Vice-Chancellor, damage to property is an offence of a criminal nature under the laws of Zambia and punishment for crimes of this sort rests with the courts upon conviction of the offenders. If it is your claim that some students damaged property during the protests that rocked the university a few months ago, over which they should be penalised, the law requires you and CBU to prove your assertion either through an administrative process or by a court. During this process, you will be availed an opportunity to identify the property that was damaged and the students who you think were responsible for that act of criminality.

If you have failed to identify the culprits, I am afraid that is no justification enough, under the law, to subject all students to this draconian measure of collective punishment. As citizens, the students should be offered the protection of law including a trial or admission of guilt procedure set by a written law or administrative rule. If it is the latter, it must be enabled by written law and subject to the constitution. The fact remains that not all students participated in the said protests. They should therefore not be made to suffer punishment until they have admitted guilt or are proven guilty by a court or any other appropriate administrative authority. If you and the university cannot identify the people who damaged property, it means there are no witnesses and no action can be taken against anyone.

You may argue that as an institution, CBU administration may have the right to impose fines or surcharges on erring students. That may be true. What the institution certainly lacks, however, is the authority to override a constitutional provision for whatever reason. One of the key principles of the rule of law is that no individual should suffer punishment unless a law provides for it and procedural safeguards are in place. In other words, law, not people, should be the authority that prescribes punishment for a distinct breach of it.

Administrative procedures should, in this regard, be authorised by law and should never contravene individual liberties offered and protected by the Constitution. If any penalty in form of fine or surcharge, as your institution wants to call it, should be imposed for damage to property, a written law should define it. Any administrative rule that arbitrarily imposes penalties on everyone is invalid based on the constitutional test of legality.

I have read remarks attributed to the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Brian Mushimba, promising to engage you further on the issue so that the extortionate amount can be reduced. My argument is not the amount you have imposed on all the students; it is the fact that the proposed action by CBU is unconstitutional. As a result, I implore you to quash it immediately.

Yours in the service of truth and justice,

Sishuwa Sishuwa


    • It is such letters which create problems at the CBU. Soon thye students will start demonstrating over the K1500 and start stonning the innocent vehicles on Jambo Drive. My daughter was injured a few years ago when our vehicle was stone by unrully students at CBU Jambo drive. She lost an eye! For those have us who have been victims of student riots I would not support even the reopening of CBU!!

  1. The dilemma of social groups is that individuals must reckon with collective behavior while at the same time bearing the burden of individual behavior. Take war, for example. The State does not go to war with the blessing of 99.9% of its citizens, let alone 99.9% of its elected representatives. The culture of violence is backward and primitive. There is need to stamp it out. Paying for damage to property is one way of punishing offenders (students) and also discouraging potential offenders (students). The estimated cost of damage seem reasonable. There is no need to vex the University Senate here. Take time to overpower criminal elements. Take time to overpower malcontents. Take time to overpower corrupt elements.

  2. Shishuwa is a known bitter educated danderhead for the UPND who together with known elements have been sponsoring trouble both at UNZA and CBU including some disgruntled lecturers who cannot tick because of being lazy and brainwashed thinking their preferred Supreme leader can win a National elections by using underhand tactics… Those students not willing to pay the penalty fee should stay home it’s simple as that…

  3. The punishment is coming to an end on 19/08/19 for CBU students. I hope this experience will deter further violent demonstrations by students.
    The additional penalties of k1500 per returning students for repairs of damage caused during the demonstration is a good idea as long as this money is intended for students needs not financing huge administrative costs of management meeting s and trips
    I hope management, government will also change management styles of bullying and ignore concerns of students. Listen to them as well because wisdom is inborn. It may also flow from students to professors. .That is the stage of community development we have reached now. Human Rights are playing a role. Gone are the days when pupils and students used to be bitten as a form of discipline The…

  4. You cannot just dream of an amount and impose on all students. Identify culprits. Just because you are in authority does not mean you can do as you This k1500 may cause problems at cbu agian.why cant we live in harmony is not easy to come by. Cbu do your homework.find culprits and let them pay.Why do u want to punish innocent students and parents?

  5. I totally agree with the content of this letter. The fact that we are angry with student protests does not justify breach of the rights of that innocent student. What would we say if the government decided to charge all Lusaka residents a fine/surcharge because police have failed to find the person who burnt City market? Would we still defend government using similar arguments?

  6. Next time you riot or misbehave take pictures of the rioters so they can be identified and the rest of you can go scot free.

  7. This is nonsense coming this guy. When students are admitted at university they sign forms promising to pay for any property damage.. They do so willingly.. Unless this guy is saying those are illegal documents. Even at the same UNZA were he is lecturing his nonsense students are made to sign. Let him first force UNZA administration to stop telling students to sign these consent forms.

  8. It wouldn’t have been said better than this. Zambia needs people like you. They want to steal from us, k1500 is way too much with this economy

  9. With a fine like this one students are expected to decist from such behavior and more importantly those who don’t want to take part will collect evidence of who took part so that your argument on only punishing wrong-doers is out in place.

    As for now, charge them all.

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