Experiences of Student Rights Activists in Zimbabwe (2000-2012)
An introduction by Phillan Zamchiya
This publication tells the stories of former student activists who became victims of state repression but managed to move on with the assistance of the Students Solidarity Trust (SST), working with local and international partners committed to human rights and academic freedom.
It recalls the biographies of young men and women who sacrificed their youth hood to lead a noble struggle against increasingly authoritarian tertiary education institutions under the chancellorship of President Robert Mugabe.
This repression occurred in a political context that paid little regard for democratic and material well-being for its citizens. Student leaders and other “fighters of the times” tell of their experiences, placing themselves at the centre of a crucial historical period beginning two years before the birth of the SST in 2002 and spanning over a decade.
The compilation is by no means exhaustive, but it represents an array of gallant young men and women who spearheaded the struggle for democracy and development in Zimbabwe with horrible consequences from an organized and vicious state.
As is the nature of biographies, the stories may not be without their biases and perhaps even the element of historical revisionism. But throughout these stories there are authentic narratives capturing the important tenets.
These individuals represented students both within the institution and externally, including on local, national and international issues. However, there are also other equally important victims who got involved in the union by becoming active in a committee, by attending councils and general meetings, or by participating in key processes and demonstrations.
These are fairly successful individuals in varying areas of expertise. This edition lists them among their peers and provides a point of reference. Most of the characters are still on the rise yet some are already prominent.
The students’ unions in Zimbabwe, and indeed globally, are highly politicised institutions, and often act as springboards for national political, civil society, church and business leadership.
The book includes the detailed accounts by student activists of life in courtrooms, police cells, security control rooms, remand prisons and prisons. It provides vivid details of the assaults, torture and murder of some of the activists.
The stories describe how some of these brutal state actions acted more as an inspiration rather than to break their souls and resolve. However, there is also bitterness at the ways of the state and as expected some accounts reflect a thread of resignation on the part of the narrators especially when odds seemed to dominate.
Some students were thrown out of educational institutions and they fell dumped and relegated into the dustbins of history. Some became destitute in the streets at some moments. However, it is how these stories end that will prove an encouragement to future generations. There is a ray of light to every dark tunnel.
Through the assistance of the SST and its local and international partners a breadth of hope is ushered and is seen to be working wonders in a Zimbabwe that has just recovered from one of the worst periods of economic and social decay during over 25 years of questionable governance policies.
Some of the authors are already leading noble social, civil and economic causes and there is no doubt that all the individuals in this book have not stopped pursuing their dreams to become leaders in various sectors of society.
In the pursuit of deeper understanding of the students’ struggles, this serves as a plank board for academic analysis and provides important insights. On its own this book is not premised on theoretical constructions.
The outline of the Solid Impact Stories, though not necessarily in the same structure provides five key themes in each and every story.
First, there is a snapshot of background details for the narrators including place of birth, schools attended, early life achievements and how one joined the struggle for democratic and material emancipation at respective tertiary institutions.
As has become synonymous with the economic decline in the country, invariably, most of the respondents come from humble beginnings and made it into leadership through hard work. Most of the leaders come from rural areas and from high density suburbs.
Only 3.7% of the respondents indicated that they come from medium density suburbs and 1.9% are from low density areas. The table below summarises activists’ areas of origin. None of the respondents come from the posh low density areas.
Typical rural areas in Zimbabwe have no electricity nor clean running water. Transport facilities and the road infrastructure are poorly developed. Yet the same troubles facing these areas are beginning to manifest themselves in key urban areas with potholes a common feature of high and medium density suburbs of major cities.
Schools in these areas hot-seat with classes accommodating over 40 children per teacher. Rural schools are sparsely located and it is uncommon to hear students who travelled over 10 kilometres only to access their nearest schools.
Unfortunately most of the respondents in this edition are males which reflect the low participation of female students in student leadership roles in Zimbabwean colleges. 87.5% of the respondents were male.
Interviews were conducted with some of the activists in the SST database available at SST. Masimba Kuchera’s story and three interviews with Nqobani Dube, Mehluli Ndlovu and Sendisa Ndlovu; activists living with disabilities capture the experiences of the minority groups.
Interviews with SST’s founding coordinator McDonald Lewanika and founding board member ltai Zimunya shed light on process of formation of SST.
Secondly, there is a theme on education development which focuses on progress made in academic studies in the past decade. More than half of the respondents completed undergraduate degrees whilst the other less than half are either completing post graduate qualifications or pursued other courses.
Third, the stories focuses on work and career development, giving a detailed account of respondents’ experiences in the past ten years and singling out what the editors considered to be challenges and achievements in relation to each respondent’s contribution to the broader students’ movement.
Fourth, there is a thread on leadership roles in the past decade focusing on personal, social, political and economic spheres. As captured emphatically in this book some SST beneficiaries have already occupied leadership and influential positions in the sectors below at different times.
Fifth, the individuals share their future goals in the coming decade. It is important to note that the five parts into which this book is organized are informed by each individual’s silhouette and future projection.
Whilst there is an overlap in their ambitions there are five clear vignettes that stand out. The leaders are hence classified into the five categories which also make up the five core parts of the book.
These are: Female warriors in student activism; Political leaders; Professional experts; Academic giants and Family and community leaders. Consequently the book is structured into six chapters.
Note on methodology
The book is based on stories collected by the Students Solidarity Trust from June 2011 to March 2012. The methods involved collecting stories through written and oral interviews. The interviews took the format of both open-ended and semi-structured interviews in person and via e-mail.
Once the stories were collected they were subjected to a strict peer review mechanism. However, due to lack of cooperation and the vagaries of time these are not the entire stories from the beneficiaries of the SST.
The authors are aware that much could have been written about the historical formation of the SST yet this is overshadowed by the stories of respondents. This is deliberate as the experiences of the respondents reflect the history of the SST and some players in the students’ movement in Zimbabwe.
Given the sensitivity of leading at a time of crisis and struggles within the struggle the editorial team tried its best to thrash out unrealistic claims about other people’s lives and tried to minimize harm to other individuals.
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