TOO YOUNG TO DIE
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.