PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu and higher education minister Michael Kaingu yesterday skipped the University of Zambia golden jubilee celebrations which he was scheduled to officiate for fear of being embarrassed by the students who planned to disrupt the event.
And gender minister Nkandu Luo was booed when she read a speech on behalf of President Lungu.
According to State House sources, President Lungu decided to stay away from UNZA after he was told that students were waiting to disrupt the function.
“The boss was told that the ground was not favourable so he just decided to send [Prof] Luo to represent him. Otherwise, things would have been bad and you know it was going to be the first time for him to visit the institution,” the sources said. “The party tried to organise some students at the very last minute. They brought for them chitenges and T-shirts and paid them to make an appearance at the event.”
Some students were heard saying, “It’s good he hasn’t come; he knows what’s good for him” when the director of programmes Dr John Simwinga announced that the Head of State would not grace the occasion.
Before learning that President Lungu would not officiate, some students, clad in UPND regalia, were seen flashing the opposition party symbol from their balconies.
And Prof Luo had to read President Lungu’s speech amidst scoffs from students.
When Prof Luo was asked to make an address, students were heard hurling anti-PF slogans and booing.
However, Prof Luo quickly called UNZA’s first graduates to join her at the podium, which forced the students to take a break from the booing and instead appreciate their predecessors.
But when the first graduates returned to their seats, the students resumed the booing.
When Prof Luo introduced President Lungu’s daughter, Tasila, the students again chanted anti-PF slogans.
Students, however, listened closely to the speech and expressed displeasure when she did not address the issue of meal allowances, which hasww been the major source of conflict recently.
“My government remains committed to improving conditions of service for the University of Zambia academic and non-academic staff. I am aware of the challenges confronting the university such as high indebtedness, inadequate infrastructure for students accommodation, lecture theatres, laboratories, research resource facilities and inadequate funding, amongst others,” Prof Luo read as the students shouted “BC! Talk about BC!”
But Prof Luo continued reading the speech: “I wish to assure that my government, through the Ministry of Higher Education, is reconsidering these critical issues so that the university can continue to operate without undue pressure. Government will continue to fund infrastructure development at all public universities as evidenced at this university in order to increase their capacity to enroll more students.”
There was also a power cut which lasted four minutes that interrupted delivery of President Lungu’s speech as the students shouted “Ah, load-shedding! Put volume, we can’t hear you.”
Prof Luo advised students to always engage in dialogue when aggrieved.
“As I conclude, I wish to call upon the students to seriously reflect on their reasons for being at this university. Our country will only develop if we produce responsible men and women to take up positions, including in the informal sector. Therefore, in difficult situations, it is important for our students to engage in dialogue than resort to destructive methods, which do not provide solutions but only retard our progress. Always seek progressive ways of seeking solutions to our problems as this is what is expected of intellectuals,” said Prof Luo on behalf of President Lungu.
Shortly afterwards, Prof Luo declared the celebrations officially open and later, she and Tasila joined the UNZA choir in a brief dance.
As the event was coming to a close, some UNZA students and PF cadres ran around the graduation square singing PF songs.
One of them talked to revealed that the group had been paid to make a statement.
“Benze batipasa ma T-shirt na vitenge kuja kwamene tisebenzela ku Library. Benze ba bwela ku seni batipasako nandalama ati tibwele ti pangeko drama (they came and gave us some T-shirts and chitenges where we work from in the Library. They even gave us some money and said we should cause some drama here),” said a cleaner.
The group rushed to the monk square where they danced to PF songs and faced off the UPND group.
Others who attended the event were Mama Chibesa Kankasa, chief Puta, freedom fighter Christine Mulundika and Rwanda’s University of Kibungo vice-chancellor Professor Silas Lwakabamba.