Nehanda Radio is serialising the book “Solid Impact Stories: Experiences of Student Rights Activists in Zimbabwe (2000-2012)” courtesy of the Students Solidarity Trust (SST). Today we look at Sally Nobuhle Mlambo.
“I see myself achieving everything that I have wanted especially in terms of women emancipation, and enlightenment…”
Trevor Murai (TM) interviews Sally Nobuhle Mlambo (SNM)
TM: I am carrying out (research) for the Solid Impact Stories book project, a book that compiles stories of survivors of human rights abuse in tertiary education institutions.
Having been a student leader yourself and survivor of rights abuses at university, you are part of the individuals we would want to interview. Nobuhle Sally Mlambo can you kindly introduce yourself?
SNM: I was born on November 16, 1985. I did my primary education at Homestead Primary School in Queens Park East Bulawayo; I did my secondary school at Eveline Girls High School. I then proceeded for my tertiary education at Midlands State University (MSU).
TM: Briefly what are the challenges that were faced by students during your time at primary school and also secondary school, typical challenges that you may not have faced yourself but witnessed other students facing.
SNM: Personally I didn’t really face a lot of challenges maybe because I went to a former group ‘A’ school. But other students faced challenges in terms of resources textbooks, writing pens, pencils, abacuses etc.
And at secondary education you find that science labs didn’t have adequate chemicals, beakers, stuff for them to use maybe biology class or physical science class and we used to have sporting activities and I remember we didn’t have enough hockey sticks and tennis rackets.
I remember you either had to buy for yourself or bring from home or borrow somewhere and those are some of the challenges that we faced.
TM: What are some of the challenges peculiar to female students at that level of Primary and secondary education that you may have faced or witnessed?
SNM: I think the biggest challenge that I faced was never being taken seriously because as a female student you find that at that time there wasn’t much of gender balance, it was always the boy who was put ahead of the girl, so you find that every time you say something especially if you had a male teacher you would always be pushed down and your voice was never heard.
Every time if there was a boy who was average and a girl who was intelligent the boy received special attention because of the girl, I think those were the major challenges that we faced.
And one more thing when we went to primary school we were encouraged to concentrate more on arts subjects than on concentrating on Mathematics and Content, you will be encouraged to pursue English and Ndebele options.
TM: You did your tertiary education at which institution and you majored in which subjects?
SNM: I did my tertiary education at MSU and majored in History and Development Studies.
TM: The duration of the programme?
SNM: It was 4 years including attachment.
TM: Can you explain briefly or shed light on the learning environment, conditions at MSU during your time and can you just shed light which years you were at MSU?
SNM: I was at MSU from 2006 March intake to 2009 August. The major challenge that we faced is basically the issues of accommodation in terms of Hostels. MSU has high enrolment; you find that the college and the surrounding areas could not meet the number of students who needed accommodation.
There was the issue of resources, the library doesn’t have enough capacity to provide for everyone, and then chairs, desks and even lecture rooms were not just enough? There were issues of not having enough computers, laptops, it was always a hassle to try and do ABC and D.
For the administration it was also hard for them as well because of resources and the food was terrible.
TM: What are other extra curricula activities that you were involved outside the academia?
SNM: I did athletics, soccer, netball, drama, debate, and a bit of interact and not much, and I played cricket.
TM: At MSU what inspired you to become one of the distinguished female student activist during your time?
SNM: I think the fact that I am female. I went to MSU when basically you find an SRC had maybe two females if they were lucky. I think what inspired me is that most females were just reluctant to get involved, and I am just an assertive person by nature.
I am a passionate person when I decide to do something I do it and the other thing is that I believe in action and I am not the sort of person who would talk and expect someone else to implement my ideas.
I would rather talk and try and implement myself. I want representation of females on campus. The MSU Dean of Student Affairs Mr. Mkwananzi also encouraged young ladies to be active and participate in whatever activities (were) happening on campus.
TM: How did you find the campaign environment?
SNM: It was masculine and at times it was hostile. I guess I was lucky because I campaigned for a post in the SRC when I was a member of ZINASU, so somehow I had that whole support of people who knew about ZINASU.
So they respected me because very few females were members of ZINASU and it made me gain so much respect from even the guys. I was a bit lucky in a way, but it was really hostile.
Most people didn’t like the fact that you are female, and at that time it was very political that was around 2007 and 2008 there were national presidential and parliamentary elections and students activism became political and people would tell you that as a woman you should leave politics for men.
TM: What do you think discouraged other ladies in campaigning and also in SRC activities and also political activities, did you experience a situation where female students in particular were being labelled or being given labels for their activism?
SNM: Yes, some people were being given labels, I remember before me there was Tendai Wenyika she had an undeserved tag. People would always say she got her post because of some things unrelated to aspirations for political office.
She was the first female president of MSU; she will always be labelled as a prostitute just because she managed to get that post. I never really got labelled, I suppose I was one of those likeable characters but am not so sure.
I was lucky, so I never really experienced much. But most women get discouraged because sometimes politics really gets dirty and as women you know, most women can’t play dirty, they don’t want to get involved.
It could be because of fear of suspension or expulsion from college. At the end they tell you look I am just here to get or acquire education and leave and that is it.
TM: Were there incidents of violence during the campaigns?
SNM: Yes, there were confrontations but they were basically peaceful, for we knew we were under scrutiny and we knew that whatever wrong move we were going to make we were going to get into trouble. There were confrontations here and there but they were basically peaceful in a way.
But I remember there was a time just before elections there was a demonstration at the dining hall and windows were broken and stuff but we knew that we had so much to lose and we knew that our main aim was to try and get people from other factions into the SRC as much as possible, so we tried to make sure that we try and be peaceful and not violent.
TM: The campaign factions did they not filter into your term of office in terms of tensions that were created during the campaign period.
SNM: They did.
TM: What was your position in the SRC and how many other females made it into your SRC?
SNM: I was the charities chairperson and we were five females out of 15.
TM: What were the peculiar challenges in the execution of your mandate as an SRC member peculiar to female SRC members?
SNM: I think the issue of being never taken seriously has always been an issue, I think that is the major issue, if you have something to say people will just listen, and then they think whatever, you know.
There is something that I noticed like maybe we talk about an idea in an SRC meeting maybe it is something that was said by a female, and you would find out that when that goes up maybe up to the senate, it comes out as a male idea.
I think that is the major problem. I think females tend to be docile in a way, at times they would be petty at times they would be quiet and they start talking after the meeting, and they start saying that wasn’t necessary, whatever, you shouldn’t have said that whatever.
So I think the biggest thing about females is that we have failed to emancipate ourselves because maybe we have pushed ourselves down to be under men, to be subordinates in away.
TM: What do you think should be done to increase the participation of female students in the SRC or in political activities both at campus and national level?
SNM: I think that only females can encourage each other, because I don’t really think a man can actually encourage a woman when they know that, that woman is taking their space. So I feel that females should encourage other females.
Females can only emancipate themselves, we can’t expect a man to come and say get into the SRC, this and that, get into the senate, get into the parliament whatever. I think it is only the females who need to do that on their own.
One thing that I have noticed is that maybe at times as females we enjoy the fact that I am the only female who has made it this far. So it is a way of trying to push down someone else because you feel if there are going to be many females in this thing it is going to make it cheap.
But if it is just a few female comrades who have done something you know it is always a big achievement because its either you are a pioneer or you are one of the few female comrades who have made it.
TM: While in ZINASU and also an SRC member were you exposed to any form of victimization?
SNM: Yes at college we were exposed to a lot of victimization. I remember there was a government agent who would come maybe we were planning something, a demonstration be it violent or peaceful, they would come and victimize you, and then you get threats such as telling you that you are going to flunk your examinations or you will never graduate.
I remember when I was on attachment we were victimized as well, maybe by association as well because if you are seen with a certain group of people it literally meant you are bad as well.
TM: Did you ever receive any support, moral support, material support, during the occasions you were under victimization?
SNM: Yes, a lot of moral support because you are never victimized alone there was a lot of moral support because finances were a bit strained at that time, so for moral support we would laugh about the victimization.
TM: Were there any organizations that were active during that time to assist students who were facing victimization?
SNM: I remember SST right, they used to give fellowships to expelled students and they used to support suspended students, then SCMZ, I am not so sure of how they used to assist. ZINASU used to assist in terms of moral, and at times they would actually refer you to organizations that could assist, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights used to give legal advice.
TM: Now that you have completed your degree any ambitions of pursuing further studies at postgraduate level?
SNM: Yes, definitely, I am thinking of doing masters, I haven’t decided on what though.
TM: Any leadership roles outside ZINASU and the SRC?
SNM: In terms of what? T
M: In terms of any community leadership, church leadership or whatever you are affiliated to.
SNM: In my community I am a leader as well. I am just someone who is outspoken, if I say something I will just say it out. I will never stop and think about something. In my community even besides SRC even when during my high school days I was born a leader.
TM: The time you were an SRC member and also part of ZINASU was arguably one of the most challenging periods in the Zimbabwe around 2007, 2008, what was the impact of the crisis in particular among female students and how did they cope to survive?
SNM: I think that time was the worst time for any female students. I remember the then challenges led to a higher rate of prostitution especially at college.
The economic crisis made us beggars because you would find that the amount of allowance from parents could not sustain us anymore, it was a way of trying to find ways of survival.
As a female there was a time when there was a shortage of sanitary wear, you couldn’t just walk into a shop and get it and that was a challenge as well.
For some people there was increase in pregnancies as well, because either some were sleeping around to get money or they couldn’t afford contraceptives, instead of using a condom you know some people want to use pills.
So it was very difficult for us, because there is always competition amongst college females, you want to dress well, get your hair done, want to do make up and so forth. At that time it became so difficult that moral values became so eroded and prostitution was seen as a way out.
TM: Did the coming in of the Inclusive government have any positive effects on the plight of students and in particular female students?
SNM: I have mixed feelings on the inclusive government. I think the only positive thing is that there are now products in the shops, now at least you can go there and buy goods you know.
But in terms of helping the plight of students it has done nothing because no student is getting grants to help pay for their fees. It didn’t do much but in terms of resources yes, it helped, but it also led to astronomical increases of fees, so now you find that some parents think that it is not a priority to educate their daughters at University.
Instead they encourage them to go for nursing or teaching something that you can pay for 6 months and then start getting an allowance if they are teaching or working. I don’t see anything positive about this state of affairs.
TM: Did the introduction of the multi-currency regime have any bearing on the fees that students pay and also the incomes that parents get?
SNM: In terms of incomes my parents are still not getting anything and so I suppose a whole lot of parents are not or they are getting very little. In terms of the multi-currency the only positive thing is that lecturers are getting paid, so you are assured that they don’t go on strike much as they used to at that time.
Then in terms of fees this has led to quite a huge increase in fees because they are trying to make the lecturers happy, the staff, the administrative costs, everything is trying to be covered, yet at the same time students can’t cover all those costs.
So it is like they are learning in terms of debt they are incurring debts, you don’t get your certificate or transcript because you still owe the university.
TM: The cadetship scheme, what is your take on it?
SNM: I just don’t like it, I just don’t like it.
TM: Reasons being?
SNM: I just dislike the fact that you get bound to something.
TM: The presidential scholarship?
SNM: I think if the presidential scholarship was used wisely, if it was given to people maybe on a fair basis it would be okay, but I realize that there are some people who are very deserving and who are not getting it, probably because some senator’s kid is getting that scholarship. I think it is a good innovation, it is actually good, and it has helped some people whom I know personally.
TM: What do you propose should be the funding scheme for student’s welfare and funding of tuition fees?
SNM: I have to think about that one, because students are really tricky you have to come up with something really good.
TM: Participation of students in national processes, we have the constitution making process that came, from your own experience as a former student did you see any student engaging in the process?
SNM: No, no, I think there was very little participation of students in the constitution making. I am not aware whether it was lack of knowledge or it is lack of interest, but I think it was both, there was lack of knowledge of where it was done and what was going to be discussed and also lack of interest because students because as youths, they feel that it is none of their business, they feel that things on a national level do not concern them. So students were largely left out.
TM: National budget formulation have you ever during your term ever witnessed a scenario where students were inputting into the national budget?
SNM: No, I didn’t. I never saw any.
TM: During demonstrations at Universities do you think the female students were more vulnerable?
SNM: Yes, they were, we were more vulnerable in the sense that usual we are slower than the guys and guys are more risky and they are willing to take more chances, so you find that people who get caught first by the cops are females.
They are the ones who bear the beatings most of the times. The police would actually beat up female students more because they will tell you that this is a men’s game what are you doing in this demonstration so it was a way of discouraging females.
TM: Work experience. Which companies have you worked for, or organizations you have worked for, private sector, government, public sector
SNM: I did my attachment at the National Constitutional Assembly. I am currently doing voluntary work for an organization called Youth for a Child in Christ.
TM: Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
SNM: I see myself achieving everything that I have wanted especially in terms of women emancipation and enlightenment. I see myself as an example.
TM: What advice do you have for those female students who are thinking of engaging in student activism?
SNM: I think they should just follow their heart, they should just go for it, and once they are in there they should just persevere, stay true to themselves, be strong and keep believing in what they have believed right from the start, and to encourage each other.
TM: What do you think the University administration should do to improve the lot of female students?
SNM: I think they should provide more accommodation for female students. Well with MSU the institution that I want to they were helping a lot, bridging programmes for the females, they were saying many female students did not do science programmes so they were having bridging programmes where they integrate females into science fields. If more universities could actually try that also and implement gender mainstreaming.
TM: Thank you for the interview.
SNM: My pleasure.