By Dr Robert Mtonga
So, ill-advisedly, ludicrously, heartlessly and purely for political expediency, the Patriotic Front Government of Zambia has decided, against all rationality, to withdraw meal allowances, without prior notice, from the University of Zambia and Copper Belt University, students on the government bursary scheme!
This has come as a “response” to the convulsions that in the recent past rocked the two public varsities due to government’s failure to pay the concerned students a balance of their meal allowances.
It is difficult to imagine a man as rock-hearted as our Minister of Higher Education, who made the announcement with seeming gladness and joy in his bosom.
One would have thought the governing party would have taken time to address the root causes of the students’ unrest in question i.e. failure by the Government of the day to pay them meal allowances legitimately due to them. To the contrary, the nation saw the Minister, and other cabinet colleagues I suppose, turned the argument round, blaming the meal allowances and yes, wait for it, an invisible hand of opposition politicians, lack of security cameras, student identity cards,porous boundaries and ghost students as the causes of the unrest, more akin to a patient blaming the doctor for his disease!
To imagine a Government taking exquisite pleasure in punishing students using such draconian measures beggars belief.
Yes, students must be roundly and soundly condemned for stoning cars, damaging private and public property and creation of mayhem. And yet that must not surely be the reason for a so-called pro-poor Government to come down heavy-handedly on tender souls and minds still in formation. Are there no other sane and humane ways of solving problems? Students who cause trouble should be punished fairly and according without Government resorting to Gestapo tactics.
I wonder whether the Government dialogued with the leaders of the respective students’ unions and university administrations on the way forward. Put differently, why did the Government not just pay the dawn meal allowances in question without waiting for the situation to boil over as rationally expected?
Lest the Minister forgets, he is serving in his portfolio at the tax-payers pleasure. The Patriotic Front Government seems to forget that it is a steward of people’s power and resources and not the owner. It must be remembered that the exercise of people’s power is always a constant exercise in humility and moderation.
The saving grace for our Minister lies in rescinding his decision. He will not be embarrassing himself by so doing but rather returning to the epicenter of morality and civility. Men of valour are not afraid of correcting mistakes. The Minister must not procrastinate and shuffle his feet a moment longer.
And concerning the proposed date for reopening the varsities one wonders how much wisdom was invested in the prescribed pre-conditions . Where will the money come from to install security cameras, gates, inter-comes, witch-hunt truant students, dons and staff etc within one month?
Does the Minister not know that the dons have not been paid their salaries for the month of February? I do not, and cannot believe, that a whole horde of men and women did sit in a cabinet meeting and make such school boy errors of judgment!
Cry my beloved Zambia. It may be that our Minister’s ego has gone before his reasoning or he is fatalistically taking Zambia’s education down the swirling drain with a smile of betrayal from ear to ear.
It remains for me to, implore you Minister; rescind your decision. I know you are a father and Zambian at heart. I know you have a conscience. Find it in your heart TODAY to make Zambia proud once again.