Zambia National Education Coalition (ZANEC) is saddened by the death of a fourth (4th) year University of Zambia (UNZA) Education student Ms. Vespers Shimunzhila who died due to suspected suffocation during a riot at the University of Zambia on 4th October 2018.
The loss of this future leader whose life her family had heavily invested in, is very disheartening. As a country, we have lost a teacher. In a country where we have only about one hundred thousand (100, 000) teachers against a population of over five million learners, Vespers’ death means more learners have been deprived of a much needed teacher!
This situation could have been avoided if only the right communication channels were open. The continued intolerance of divergent views by government and the banning of students unions by the Minister of Higher Education (MoHE) is a cause of such problems at institutions of higher learning. Students are deprived of representation and therefore have no platform for dialogue on matters affecting them. We demand that the Head of State intervenes by re-instating the Students Unions in order to ensure continued progressive dialogue.
We condemn the behaviour of the police especially for the adverse crowd control methods they are using to resolve student grievances. It is our hope, as a Coalition that government will conclude its investigation soon and ensure that the responsible people are made to account.
ZANEC recommends that a deliberate professional development program for the police be designed specifically for addressing a human rights based approach in handling differences at the higher learning institutions.
Additionally, the banning of student unions is a violation of Academic Freedoms in the Higher Learning Institutions. Article 20 and 21 of the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Act No. 2 of 2016 states that “citizens have a right to freely assemble and express themselves”. According to the law, Student Unions can only be abolished if they are threatening national security. In our view, we feel that, this has not been the case. Dialogue with the students is a fundamental approach of addressing student grievances, other than using force and intimidation that suppresses the students’ Academic Freedom and rights.
Lastly, we send our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Ms Vespers Shimunzhila and pray for a quick recovery for the injured students.
Mr George Hamusunga