OPEN LETTER TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF ZAMBIA MR. EDGAR LUNGU
By Tiyaonse Kabwe
C/O Department of Development Studies
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
The University of Zambia,
Tuesday April, 16, 2019
INTERVENE AND SAVE UNZA
I wish to begin my letter with a disclaimer. My intentions should not be mistaken. I am no one’s front. I represent no opposition party, union or administration. My letter to you, Comrade President, is in exercise of my freedom of expression, as a concerned citizen of our country.
There is a crisis at UNZA which has escalated to such magnitude that only you, Comrade President, can step in and resolve. The Minister of Higher education cannot help. She has no sympathy. She is full of threats. Unions have been threatened with de-registration. Lecturers and other employees have been threatened with dismissals. Those who have been grieved with delayed salary payments have been asked to resign. She wants no dialogue with unions because
she believes they do not march up to her intellectual capacity.
This request to you Comrade President to intervene and help is not unusual. You are the helmsman of our nation. You are the one who must be called upon when all else has failed. You have the capacity because you have the power. Cde Kenneth Kaunda too had suggested to the University administration in his UNZA golden Jubilee commemoration speech that they should, if need be, knock on your door for help because during times of turbulence he himself used to intervene and keep the university afloat.
The crisis has been mounting. The teaching infrastructure has hardly expanded beyond its 1967
capacity. The student population has been swelling from year while those of lecturers have remained stagnant. Teacher- student ratio in some departments such as Development studies is as high as 1:400 students, when the normal ratio is only 1:13. Some departments and schools have rallies but without the aid of the usual public address systems. Tutorial teaching has long vanished in certain courses where there is either no space or adequate manpower to conduct them. There is at most congestion in students’ hostels with no supporting infrastructure such as
adequate ablution blocks and cooking facilities. All but one dining hall are now lecture thearters.
Students receive insufficient bursaries or loans and there has been an unlawful decision to curtail their meal allowances. The insufficiency of student’s loans has resulted in their inability to do course registration in time, a factor that leads to withholding and chaotic processing of results. The rest of the infrastructure is rundown, There are rainfall water leakages in many places. There is hardly any water in some Departments’ toilets, The University library which is UNZA’s seat of learning and excellence is now an empty shell. Some of its sections such as special collections have been declared unhealthy and closed to students. Shelves everywhere are either empty or staffed with outdated literature. Information technology has been difficult to updated. Access to worldwide academic literature has been hampered by lack of funds for subscriptions. There is hardly any space for teaching. Lecturers cannot subscribe to international journals nor access new books in their fields because UNZA can no longer afford to pay for such subscriptions.
UNZA can no longer sponsor participants to international academic forums. Academic research is not excelling, owing to lack of funds. Consultancy research arising from personal initiatives of individual academics is being frustrated or discouraged by new regulations, such as raising consultation tax arising from a genuine bid to raise more revenue. There is little or no movement in the payment of long outstanding pensions and gratuities. Some employees have had to die without the benefits of receiving their hard earned entitlements. To crown it all salaries have now stopped coming in time. The March salaries have not been paid. Lecturers’, students’, and employees’ morale is at its lowest, souls have been injured. Spirits have been dampened. Work stoppages are yet again looming. There seems to be no solution in sight. The faint light at the end of the tunnel has faded.
Comrade President, I submit that the mounting crisis has nothing to do with the so called politicisation of UNZA by opposition parties neither is it due to the alleged poor administration of the institution. It is nothing but poor government funding.
Granted, and as the Government spokesperson indicated, a grant aided institution like UNZA should strive to stand on its own feet finally. It is the reason why Cde KK and UNIP provided UNZA with so many houses and farms. However, what should be appreciated is that the institution’s capacity to fend for itself has long been eroded. The reckless stripping of government institutions’ asserts started by Chiluba’s MMD government never spared UNZA. It’s not only lost its numerous and valuable houses but also gave away huge chunks of its farm lands. UNZA assets were also depleted by known characters in MMD government positions who helped themselves with additional portions of land. Owing to certain combination of factors York farm is not performing. Liempe farm has remained a white elephant and has been shrinking in Size.
Indeed government resources may not be permitting. But there is a question of prioritisation. There are certain things that must always come first especially those upon which the realisation of other national needs depend. It is a long established fact that education is the foundation of national development. It is the key that unlocks all human potential. It gives hope to the hopeless, defeats poverty, overcomes human degradation, and sets all manner of human captives free. UNZA is this country’s university. It is the original, it is highest and flagship of our education and training programs. It is our national pride and the foundation of our national development. For instance, there were numerous other pressing needs at the time the university was being conceived of.
The country had emerged from colonialism having no resources but faced with numerous needs. In choosing to construct the university the government never started by having money. It was the governments will and commitment that made them find the resources they required. Ordinary people were called upon to sacrifice. Friendly nations came forward and the wonderful dream was finally realised. The concept had been well conceived Cde Kenneth Kaunda and his wise team of ministers, despite their humble education chose not to settle for yet another university collage whose courses would be determined by some mother universities abroad. Instead, they chose to have our own indigenous university which would develop the type of courses that would meet our own unique and specific needs.
The main entrance to the university library have the following words inscribed on a plate: “Let this legend of self-sacrifice, on the part of poor people never be forgotten by generations to come. let it remain as an inspiration to all so that every good that shall come out of this building shall be to the greater glory of the people”. The words were spoken by Cde KK at the opening of the university library. It was a reminder to all generations to come that they should not forget that UNZA had been built for the purpose of helping the poor overcome their poverty and live full human lives. It was an appeal to all succeeding governments not to change this original concept of our university. It was the lasting wish of Cde. Kenneth Kaunda, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, Ruben Chintandika Kamanga, Nalumino Mundia, Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, Mama Julia Mulenga Chikamoneka, Alexanda Gray Zulu, Sikota and Arthur Wina, Matthias Mainza Chona, Mama Chibesa Kankasa and of all those other well-meaning persons that had gathered to cause the university to happen. It was the last will our thoughtful fore fathers left for every generation to come. It is the will we must honour.
Comrade President, all I am saying is that kindly step in and help UNZA. If you do what is right for UNZA, and if you do it right now, when you have the ability to achieve, you will, when you are no longer in that highest office, have every pride in looking over your shoulders, and nodding with utmost satisfaction, that you did what was right for UNZA and what was right for Zambians.
cc. Amos Chanda
Special Assistant to the President for Press and Public Relations