Thousands of citizens yesterday joined University of Zambia students for Vespers Shimuzhila’s requiem mass at the UNZA SDA church along Katimamulilo Road in Lusaka.

People from various sectors, ranging from staff at the University of Zambia, political party leaders, business executives, musicians, students from various higher learning institutions and ordinary citizens, all clad in black, turned up to pay their last respects to Shimuzhila, who suffocated after police threw a tear gas canister in her room.

Around 07:40 hours, musician and civil rights activist Maiko Zulu led thousands of UNZA students from the Great East Road Campus in a march past to the Church.

Other students, however, took advantage of their day to protest against police brutality, proceeding to the Mandahill footbridge where they sat on the road and mourned their colleague.

The massive march took social media by storm as netizens shared the unbelievable pictorial scenes of protesters practically putting business in the part of Lusaka to a stand still.

No police were spotted attempting to stop the protesters and motorists opted to use alternative routes.

The students then returned to the church for the service, which began at exactly at 09:50 hours with the campus choir giving an opening hymn titled “Does Jesus Care”, depicting the hardships that humans go through and what remains of loved ones when one dies and how God looks at everything from Heaven.

Pastor Evans Manjimela led the Church into a sermon, encouraging Vespers’ parents to accept the death of their daughter and rely on God for comfort.

“You and your wife [Mr and Mrs Shimuzhila] you were saying that this year you are done with Vespers and I am sure you were budgeting for her graduation. Little did you know that this will be a special graduation. The gathering we were waiting for is not one where the pastor is speaking, we were waiting for the gathering were the VC speaks and gives the degrees. But as it is, death is a mystery to us. We don’t send out children into the University in order to collect a coffin, we send them in the hope that when they graduate, they will be a blessing to the family and to the nation. When Vespers left the village, everyone knew she has gone to the University but this afternoon you are going to Namwala and you are not taking a graduate, you are taking Vespers in a coffin. And in times like this, as human beings, our hearts are failing us, except to the turn to the Lord. Because of this, may I invite you, painful as it is, read the word of God,” said Pastor Manjimela.

In her tribute, Vespers’ sister described the deceased as a God-fearing child whose life was exemplary and outstanding.

“Vespers was nurtured in a Christian home. She was very exemplary upwards. I grew with Vespers in Namwala, she was my age mate. It was our dream to come and study at the University of Zambia one day. But Vespers started by going to Rusangu University and when things didn’t work out well at Rusangu University, she applied at UNZA and she was accepted in 2014 and when I heard that she was accepted at UNZA I was very happy. Vespers has left a very big gap, her death pains a lot. She faced a lot financial difficulties and she was not even on bursary. Her death is really painful, he dreams have been cut short. Who is going to save the students from these injustices?,” asked Vespers’ sister.

Meanwhile, speaking to Journalists after the service, UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema dispelled allegations that he instigated the October 4 protests at UNZA, saying Vespers’ death would have been prevented had law enforcement agencies been responsible.

“To say that I am politicking is the most stupid and irresponsible thing to say because I am not responsible for paying university allowances. I am not responsible for commanding the police to do what they did. So therefore, the people responsible for this death unfortunately and indeed the injuries of other students who are still ill lies squarely on those responsible for meeting obligations such as student allowances. But what they do? They gave themselves salary increments when student salaries and salaries for civil servants have not been paid. So I am not responsible, I will be responsible when our time comes,” said Hichilema.

Also addressing journalists were NGOCC Board Chairperson Sara Longwe and the organisations’ executive director Engwase Mwale who bemoaned the failure by the law enforcement agencies to protect the lives of students.

“It’s shame to Zambia that we should live in this way. Even if there was a riot, those riots needed to be dealt with properly. I hope this is a lesson to the security and to everyone of us, including the students that if we have a grievance, we should find ways in which we deal with such things,” said Longwe.

Mwale, on the hand, called for dialogue over students’ welfare.

“We want to have a situation in future where the government can be able to sit down with the students to be able to discuss the various aspirations that students have so that they can come up with a lasting solutions that is amicable in a lot of ways,” said Mwale.

And speaking during the service, University of Zambia Vice Chancellor Prof Luke Mumba said there was no justification for the loss of life.

“As a custodian of our university, I am heart broken. When I heard about the unfortunate things happening at Great East road campus that night, I visited campus in the middle of the night and tried to pacify the situation. I witnessed about 19 students in the night being rushed to the university clinic for attention and among those was Vespers. Little did I know that that was going to be the last time we were seeing her. Nothing whatsoever can justify the taking away of a life, the death of Vespers has left a big dent on our university. As a university we are resolved to make the university environment safe. We will strive to achieve a conducive environment for studies,” said Prof Mumba.

Vespers’ body has since been transported to Namwala district in Southern Province for burial.