The last thing University of Zambia students need is to lose the sympathy and support of the general public. As things stand right now, and at the rate developments are happening at the Great East campus, we are afraid that our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who are pursuing academic qualifications at the highest learning institution have lost that solidarity.

On Friday last week, some University of Zambia students mobilised around 20:00 hours and went to block parts of the Great East Road before stoning innocent motorists.

We tried to find out what was going on from a number of students we know at the campus, but a majority of them didn’t even know that there was such an incident going on, because it happened within a very short time. It was later discovered that the protest was sparked by a ten-minute power outage at the institution.

We know it feels gangster to behave in the manner that our relatives are conducting themselves, especially under group influence. But this is taking a grievance too far, and we are not surprised that citizens have no kind words for the students over their unjustified actions.

If indeed the power black out took less than 10 minutes as witnesses tell us, then it means these students were actually stoning motorists when power had already been restored. We are saying this because we imagine that after the blackout came into effect, the students must have taken at least five minutes to mobilise(which by the way, is only possible in our imaginations) and another five minutes to walk to the roadside, climb the footbridge and start dropping rocks on unsuspecting motorists. By that time, the electricity problem must have already been resolved.

Surely, this is sheer stupidity. This kind of foolishness is not only an injustice to the people who pay taxes to keep the institution running, but also ruining a perfectly admirable reputation that the University has commanded for decades. By the way, UNZA no longer has the monopoly of academic excellency; in a few years, it will no longer be the crème de la crème of higher learning institutions in Zambia, partly because of this kind of behaviour.

Restoring prestige to the University of Zambia will not only take building new hostels, lecture theaters or employing more professors. It will also take students realising that this institution has produced national heroes in the past, it has the capacity to turn them into national assets and as such, they should preserve it for the benefit of their children.
How can the so-called intellectuals fail to recognise their real woes? Their union was disbanded and they were quiet, the Financial Intelligence Centre is telling them that the country lost k4.5 billion from criminal transactions and they are ndwiii, their government is declaring schools as wasting assets and they are quiet, but a ten-minute power cut is what they want to make noise about? Really?

Maybe the current crop of students does not know the history of UNZA and the amount of power it used to command, so we will attempt to remind them. In the past, UNZA students did not protest for foolish selfish reasons but for national causes. For instance, in 2001 when it became apparent that Frederick Chiluba wanted a third term in office, students did not leave the anti-third term debates to the civil society and opposition, they actively joined the protests; making their young voices heard on the need to uphold the Constitution.

In January 2007, UNZA students jeered Levy Mwanawasa when he went to lay the foundation for the hostels which were named after him. This was because 49 percent of shares in Zanaco had just been sold to Rabobank of the Netherlands. They did not let him speak because to them, it did not make sense to be considering an IMF deal whilst selling off national assets.

In 2013, Michael Sata decided to remove fuel and maize subsidies without warning and students rose, joining CSOs and other pressure groups in protests. These are just few of the many examples we can cite where UNZA students showed concern for the governance of this country and participated in advocating for change, upholding the Constitution and protecting democracy. At that time, even though riots were not encouraged, the general public was in full support of students protests.

The current crop of UNZA students is selfish and lacks patriotism. They can choose to rubbish our criticism and claim that we don’t know the hardships that they are going through. But we need to remind them that they are not the first ones to pass through that institution, and they are certainly not any special than other scholars who have opted to pursue their studies at alternative universities.

We would further like to warn UNZA students that this is not a regime to play around with, or as they say it in Chipata; si boma yodyelako nshaba iyi. Read very carefully the threat from Lusaka Province Minister Bowman Lusambo and don’t think for a second that he is bluffing. They are coming for you.

We have seen more catastrophic riots at the University of Zambia in the past, where students lost lives and grave damage was caused to infrastructure. Despite that level of disaster, governments came, fought with the students and left, ministers came and went, no regime ever thought of disbanding the university students’ union (UNZASU).

Well, those are those but this PF is another. In less than five years, it has done the impossible. Right now, you have no union leaders to air your grievances through, and the only voice you have is that of the general public, the motorists whom you are stoning.

Like someone rightly observed, some of these students who are behaving like this come from humble family houses which the Rural Electricity Authority has not yet connected to the power grid. How can a ten-minute power outage be reasonable grounds for such a protest?

We are appealing to UNZA students to tame their misguided emotions. This country has bigger problems to sort out, and we cannot afford to have a few foolish scholars causing unnecessary havoc and diverting the much-needed public attention from the national crisis debate.

Under normal circumstances, we would have been telling Professor Nkandu Luo and her government that their move to disband the students’ union is beginning to boomerang because now, they will have no means of containing such behaviour. In the absence of UNZASU, a bunch of unruly students can now smoke weed in Kalundu and start causing havoc on the Great East Road without any cause at all – there is no student’s body to reason with them. But we realise that this is exactly what this government wanted, so that they can treat students as they wish, without anyone saying mfwee!

So it’s up to the students to drop the pomposity and reflect on the state of affairs in this country. Let them take interest in the scandals that are unfolding in government. Only then will they understand that a ten-minute power outage should be the least of their worries. Malabishi!