Dear Minister Luo,

On 29 April 2019, News Diggers published the most recent public comments you have made on the continued closure of the Copperbelt University (CBU). In the published story, you were quoted by the newspaper as expressing the hope that

‘President Edgar Lungu will decide to reopen the Copperbelt University now that the students have apologised for their conduct. I closed CBU with [a] heavy heart. My decision [or desire] has never been to close any institution. But I want to applaud the CBU students for taking the trouble to apologise to the President of this Republic. I am only an appointee of His Excellency the President of Zambia and if he finds it in his heart to forgive them, who am I [not to reopen CBU]? I act on his behalf so I want to applaud them for apologising”

Minister, the implications of your remarks are threefold.

The first is that you closed the university at the behest of President Lungu. You personally were not for the decision to shut down CBU, but being an appointee of the President, who was ostensibly offended by the actions of the students, you simply gave expression to the President’s wish that the most appropriate punishment for their conduct was to close the university.

The second is that you, Minister, are not personally averse to reopening CBU. Indeed, how can you be opposed when it was never your desire to close the university in the first place? Had you had enough power or if much depended on you alone, you would have already announced the reopening of the institution. The problem is that you require permission from President Lungu to ‘unclose’ CBU, which permission has not been granted to you. Just like you merely acted on the President’s wish when closing the institution on 5 April 2019, you are now waiting for him to inform you that it is his wish that ‘now is the time to reopen CBU’.

The third is that the reopening of CBU, now that the students have apologised for their misconduct – conduct that I also deplore – is now entirely dependent on whether the President has the ‘heart to forgive them’. This is what is keeping you from announcing the reopening of CBU – the absence of a proclamation from President Lungu confirming that he, like you have done, has forgiven the students for their transgressions that forced your delegated hand to close the Copperbelt University. It is to this third and final implication of your remarks that I wish to briefly address myself.

Minister, can you please find out from the President if he has forgiven the students and then share his response with the nation. If President Lungu has already forgiven the students, may I then implore you to either reopen the university or at least have the courtesy to explain to the public and the affected students why the institution should remain closed? Public accountability demands that you provide responses to the questions and concerns of those in whose name you lead and serve.

If he has not forgiven the students, may l please implore you to remind President Lungu that he is a self-confessed Christian presiding over a country, populated by fellow Christians, that has been officially declared as guided by Christian values. One of the key values of the Christian faith is forgiveness. In fact, if we are to follow the Biblical injunctions, the President has no choice but to forgive the students because they are yet to reach the ‘seventy-seven times’ threshold that Jesus Christ prescribed as the limits to forgiveness in Mathews 18 verse 21-22:

‘Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’.

With this declaration, Christ unilaterally amended the seven times limit that had existed until then. Ordinarily, before anyone seeks forgiveness, there must be an element of admission of wrongdoing on their part to say ‘After careful self-introspection and analysis, I have come to the realisation that my conduct against you fell shot. I was wrong and I am sorry. Please forgive me’. On the basis of this contrition, the offended then proceeds to forgive the offender. By your own admission, the students have admitted that they were wrong and have communicated this position to you and the President. What then is preventing you from reopening CBU, Minister?

Unless there is another reason that explains why you have not announced the opening of CBU, I implore you to reopen the institution both because the scriptures make it very clear that President Lungu has little sway on the matter, especially since those who supposedly offended his emotions have apologised, and because reopening CBU is the correct thing to do. If there are other reasons that are holding you back from reopening the institution, please share them with the public so that we may seek to understand your point of view. As an educated person yourself, I do not think you need any reminder about the tragic effect of keeping CBU closed on the reputation of our public universities, the aspirations of the affected young people, and Zambia’s future.

I would like to end my letter with a quote from former South African president, Thabo Mbeki:

‘As we travel along the long road of life that all of us must traverse, we must forever remember that others who will follow in our footsteps tomorrow, but overtake us the day after and become our guides, should never have occasion to accuse us that what we did demonstrate selfish concern about ourselves, with reckless regard of the interests of other people, including the generations that have yet to come, as the calves will come from the borrowed herds’.

Minister, I urge you and indeed your colleagues in Cabinet to reflect on Mbeki’s thoughts with the necessary critical distance. Most importantly, I appeal to you and the President to reopen the Copperbelt University immediately. By the way, I should mention that l have read Section 40 (2) of the Higher Education Act which confers powers on the Minister to close a public university:

‘The Minister may close a public higher education institution, for a specified period, on grounds of health or public disorder.’

You will however note, as l have done, that this law also provides that such a decision shall only be made for a specified period, not indefinitely. As far as l am aware, you Minister have not told the nation the duration of the CBU closure. I urge you to do so, as per the law.

Yours truly,

Sishuwa Sishuwa,
Citizen and Taxpayer