MARGARET KANGWA, Lusaka
AT THE official opening of the University of Zambia in 1966, first President Kenneth Kaunda, who was introducing then Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, who was giving a key note address, is said to have broken down.
In his book, Zambia: The First 50 Years, Andrew Sardanis writes that Dr Kaunda described the neglect of education by the colonial government and in the process broke down reminiscing that after his father’s death, the Lubwa School refused to enrol him because his mother did not have the two shillings and six pence fee.
Sardanis says it took some 20 minutes before Dr Kaunda composed himself to finish the speech, a period that felt like eternity.
“Nyerere, who followed, broke the ice with his easy charm when he started with: ‘Ken, you do not know what kind of problems you’re bringing upon your head, opening this school. University students are uncontrollable, they go on strikes and protest marches; they will be descending on State House shouting and making demands, and telling you how to run the country,’ before he proceeded to extol the virtues of university education,” Sardanis writes.
That has been pretty much the story of University of Zambia (UNZA).
UNZA, like most learning institutions, was closed following the outbreak of cholera. The institution was to open subject to certain measures being implemented.
Added to that, Minister of Higher Education Nkandu Luo banned squatting at both UNZA and the Copperbelt University (CBU).
Following the ban on squatting in hostels, it was being reported that over 14,000 students at both UNZA and CBU will have no residential accommodation.
It is a huge number by any imagination.
University of Zambia Students Union (UNZASU) outgoing president Adrian Matole appealed to Government to first find an alternative before banning squatting.
“We know that squatting is illegal but looking at the situation we do not have enough boarding spaces to cater for all the students and boarding houses around the institution are very expensive, students who are on bursary are delayed when it comes to giving them allowances,” Mr Matole said.
He proposed that management increase the number of students that should be in one room from two to four rather than abolishing squatting completely.
A second-year student who only identified himself as Francis appreciated where the ban on squatting was coming from but still thought it was going to impact the education of thousands of students.
“This is rainy season, how are we going to manage moving in rains to come and attend lessons? Some of us are financially challenged, how then are we going to manage with transport issues? Squatting is our only option,” he said.
“In as much as they are saying they want to build more structures that will accommodate a number of students, let them allow squatting and as soon as they are done, with their constructions, they can officially ban squatting because we will also know where to go.”
Another female student at UNZA said Government must also consider the fact that there are students coming from far areas and without any relatives in Lusaka.
“So, if they do not have anywhere to squat, access to the campus will be difficult, and some will not be attending lessons, hence encouraging them to use leakages during exams,” she said.
“There are many other pending issues at the institution that need urgent attention from the government than the issue of squatting. Government must consider that not all students are on bursary, some of them depend on the same money they receive from their squatters to buy food and other academic materials such as books and other groceries.
“A lot of evil things will be created, female students will start prostitution as means of finding money and stealing by male students will increase.”
UNZA public relations and international liaison manager Damaseke Chibale said the ban on squatting in higher learning institutions was by and large just a reinforcement of the policy following the outbreak of cholera, a disease caused by poor sanitation.
Mr Chibale had argued that squatting is one of the contributing factors to public health hazards and must be stopped because in an event that there is an outbreak of a disease like cholera at an institution like UNZA, it can be catastrophic because of the huge number of students.
He said as the institution opened, there had been some upward adjustments in accommodation fees so as to meet the cost of maintenance and repair, electricity, water and sanitation as well as solid waste management.
Mr Chibale explained that accommodation fees were going to depend on which room one was given.
For standard rooms, those that were on 75 percent bursary were to pay K975; those on 50 percent – K1950; and those on 25 percent – K2925 per annum. For the big flat rooms, those on 75 percent bursary were to pay K487.5; 50 percent – K975; and 25 percent – K1462.5 per annum.
For the students who are not sponsored by the government, they were expected to pay K3,900 per year.
“It will be irresponsible if we were to promote squatting at the expense of public health and hygiene, the welfare of students is our interest and to make sure that we give them the best, both in education and how to take care for themselves,” Mr Chibale said.
He said according to UNZA policy, each room is to accommodate two persons only and any number above that is illegal. He said unfortunately, students have abused that policy over the years.
Mr Chibale said in the meantime, management was in the process of partnering with other private sectors so that more hostels can be built.
Following the ban on squatting, it was being reported that boarding houses surrounding UNZA including some in Kalingalinga had increased their rentals.
But fortunately, there is some relief.
UNZA management has reversed its decision not to ban squatting.
UNZA caretaker committee chairperson Namucana Musiwa said no student will be displaced or left stranded as a result of the ‘no squatting policy’ that was introduced.
Ms Musiwa said that the ‘no squatting policy’ will only be implemented in phases, and that students will continue sharing rooms until adequate accommodation is provided.
“After consultations with the Ministry of Higher Education, it was agreed that management would phase the implementation of ‘no squatting policy’ and ensure that alternative accommodation is provided to as many students as possible, before fully effecting the policy,” she said.
The medium-term measures involve the completion of ongoing construction of hostels with over 4,000 bed space capacity.
“The long-term measures will be construction of new student hostels, some of which are already being considered under the private public partnership projects being pursued by the university,” Ms Musiwa said.
MARGARET KANGWA, Lusaka