The University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU) says if Zambians are pushed for too long, they will reach a point where they can no longer bottle up their emotions and they will explode.
And UNZALARU has called off the go-slow which was in effect for about two weeks but have threatened to go on a full-fledged strike if government does not settle their outstanding salaries by end of June.
Speaking on UNZA Radio’s Lusaka Star programme yesterday, UNZALARU publicity secretary Dr Moffat Moyo said government should not threaten lecturers every time they claim their dues because stifling dialogue is promoting dictatorship.
“This is an academic institution and academic institutions are key to dialogue and from what we have already said from 2010 up to now, you have seen that we have been open to dialogue and I believe that no one has the right to stifle this dialogue. But if we come out trying to say this issue is not getting anywhere and maybe because management is generally more powerful than the general lecturer, I think you are killing the spirit of dialogue if you are not ready to listen to students and lecturers when they are complaining because people have the right to express their grievances, so the moment you try to stifle this dialogue then you are promoting dictatorship and there is no room for dictatorship in the modern society, we have gone way beyond that,” Dr Moyo said.
“So people should be able to say that okay if we have messed up and people are able to say we have messed up, then what we are supposed to do is get down to the table and talk about it to say how can we work together to solve this? But if people will just come up and say this is wrong we are going to fire you then we have failed and this is something that has to be seriously watched because we do not know where it is going to. You know we have had serious problems in countries other than Zambia and it starts with these small things where you see it happening with students and lecturers and now it will be happening with other groups of people and people will reach this point where they cannot bottle up thier emotions anymore and when it reaches that point it’s an explosion and I don’t think we really want that.”
And UNZALARU general secretary Dr Kelvin Mambwe said the suspension of University of Zambia Students Union (UNZASU) activities by the Minister of Higher Education Professor Nkandu Luo was unacceptable.
“The suspension of UNZASU by the Minister is unacceptable because we as the University of Zambia have the freedom to express our grievances and this freedom should be respected. These are freedoms that are enshrined in the law of this land so we don’t expect threats from any part of this country, whether it’s coming from the Minister or management, these threats for me I would say they are empty threats because they have no place in this modern society and we are a democratic nation where people should be allowed to express their grievances. When people protest it means there is a problem so if there is a leader who is responsible enough, they should be willing to listen to the problems that people are faced with. So we are appealing to the Minister of Higher Education and particularly the President himself to come on board and solve some of these problems the University is faced with,” Dr Mambwe said.
Dr Mambwe also called on President Edgar Lungu to step in and find a lasting solution to problems which UNZA was facing.
“In fact, through this platform we would like to ask the President [Edgar Lungu] to give an audience that we can present to him the problems that the University has been facing. These are problems which will not end until there is serious political will from the President and his entire Cabinet. We have met the Minister and the Permanent Secretary previously for dialogue and this afternoon again we are meeting the Minister and we hope that the meeting which we are going to have today is going to have good progress in resolving this problem,” Dr Mambwe said.
And UNZALARU threatened to go on strike if government failed to clear the debt by end of June.
“In Principle the go-slow was over on Friday and our members have gone to work and I think through engagement, government will do something otherwise nothing will happen, we will still have to go back to where we were last week and if that fails by end of this month, then I am afraid that we will have to go on a fully-fledged strike just as we indicated in our communique which was issued last week,” Dr Moyo said.
Dr Moyo attributed the failure to pay lecturers in time to inadequate funding from the government.
“The many problem is inadequate funding from the government. I would for example tell you that the last time the grant was increased was in 2011 during Michael Sata’s time and it was increased by a very minimal percent and from that time to date, the grant has been the same and so you can see that from that time to today, the value of the Kwacha has not been the same, we have had inflation rates going up, we have had the cost of fuel going up, the cost of fuel and so on but the grant remains the same. So mainly, government has not adequately funded this institution and this is where the problem is arising from,” said Dr Moyo.
“And right now nothing has been promised [in terms of money] from government that’s why we said that we want to work with concrete figures this time because there is no concrete figure that has come through. Of course government has said something is being done for quite some time, they have been working on dismantling the debt, but as much as they are talking about dismantling this debt they haven’t told us how much is going to be given to UNZA and when or the time frame, it’s only UNZA that has actually put aside some money which would be interesting to know that, that is K7 million from a debt of over K350 million, so they have put in their budget of this year that they will pay us K7 million, I am sure you can tell on your own that is a drop in the ocean. That’s just a drop, I mean just compare K7 million against k350 million.”