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THE un­for­tu­nate death of a fourth-year fe­male stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Zam­bia on Thurs­day night makes sad read­ing, and once again brings to the fore the deep un­der­ly­ing an­i­mos­ity be­tween stu­dents and the au­thor­i­ties. The stu­dent died at the Levy Mwanawasa Teach­ing Hospi­tal where she was ad­mit­ted after suf­fo­cat­ing when a hos­tel caught fire as stu­dents ri­oted in the night. Ac­cord­ing to Zam­bia Po­lice Ser­vice spokesper­son Es­ther Ka­tongo, the fourth year fe­male stu­dent in the School of Ed­u­ca­tion and an­other who is a se­cond year stu­dent suf­fo­cated and were taken to the clinic within cam­pus. They were later trans­ferred to Levy Mwanawasa Teach­ing Hospi­tal where she died. The other one is still ad­mit­ted. The whole fra­cas started when the univer­sity stu­dents ri­oted over de­layed meal al­lowances and re­sorted to block mo­torists on the Great East Road. If the protest had been con­fined to the univer­sity cam­pus, there would not have been a heavy po­lice pres­ence but the stu­dents re­sorted to at­tack in­no­cent mo­torists out­side the cam­pus who have no di­rect bear­ing over their griev­ances. If any­thing, these are the men and women who toil day and night to earn a liv­ing and are faith­ful tax­pay­ers – whose money os­ten­si­bly fi­nances their ed­u­ca­tion. Although death is not some­thing one can pre­dict, the stu­dent’s death could have been avoided – if the stu­dents had acted in a ma­ture man­ner and sought an am­i­ca­ble so­lu­tion to their griev­ances. Stu­dents at UNZA have always re­sorted to ston­ing in­no­cent mo­torists on the Great East Road, who os­ten­si­bly fi­nance their ed­u­ca­tion through taxes. But in the mean­time, the blame game has started. An official of the Zam­bia Na­tional Stu­dents Union Mac­Don­ald Muya­balo has termed the ac­tion of the po­lice ser­vice as bar­baric and un­pro­fes­sional in the dis­charge of their du­ties of keep­ing law and or­der and pre­serv­ing the lives of peo­ple. Mr Muya­balo claims that the act by the po­lice of fol­low­ing stu­dents into their cam­pus even when they had moved from the road­side into their cam­pus was “bar­baric and un­pro­fes­sional.” The po­lice would also claim they were only try­ing to re­store law and or­der. The bot­tom line though is that the riot should not have been there in the first place if the stu­dents con­fined their griev­ances with the UNZA ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Min­istry of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion. We note that there is a se­ri­ous com­mu­ni­ca­tion gap be­tween the stu­dents and au­thor­i­ties in the ab­sence of a stu­dents’ union. One of the stu­dents said the in­sti­tu­tion has op­er­ated with­out a stu­dents’ union since 2016 when its ac­tiv­i­ties were re­stricted caus­ing a break­down in com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween man­age­ment and stu­dents. Why have the au­thor­i­ties al­lowed such a sta­tus quo to con­tinue? Stu­dents need a voice through which to air their griev­ances – there has to be a chan­nel of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the two sides to deal with mis­in­for­ma­tion. As it is, we call on the au­thor­i­ties to quickly move in and ex­plain to the stu­dents what the po­si­tion is. In the ab­sence of an official ex­pla­na­tion, mis­in­for­ma­tion, whose reper­cus­sions are too ghastly to con­tem­plate, will take root. We do not need to lose a young life at UNZA to en­sure there is san­ity. All key ac­tors must put their heads to­gether and re­solve, clear mis­un­der­stand­ings. Stu­dents need not always run to the Great East Road cam­pus when­ever they have a griev­ance. There must be room for a peace­ful so­lu­tion to their com­plaints.

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