Outdated Degrees, attitudes and values systems

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Long Visa Queues

Last week the Independent carried a story about how Zimbabwean students were inundating the South African embassy, seeking visas to go and study in that country. Most of the students interviewed said something to the effect that they were running away from the country’s rotting education system, and ‘outdated’ degrees. Not so long ago, the opposite was true; South African students and many others in the region were the ones seeking Zimbabwe’s coveted education. However when you critically assess the situation, it isn’t just degrees that are outdated, but attitudes and value systems prevailing in that sector.

When I did doing my undergrad in Media and Studies at a local state university a few years ago, I recall that the class ahead of us went ahead to do their work-related learning, popularly known as attachment, mainly in newsrooms, without having ever operated a computer. The school of journalism did not have cameras, computers and other paraphernalia necessary then for learning the profession. We never at any point learned anything to do with social media and emerging trends in new media. If any of the lecturers had ever heard about Facebook, Twitter or blogging, they either didn’t care or didn’t think it was relevant to follow or talk about in their New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) lectures.

I had a friend in the African Languages class and the ‘African languages’ they studied were Shona and Ndebele only. I was sure that those languages were only spoken in Zimbabwe, a factor that did not broaden the scope of the degree’s potential.

I also recall how accommodation woes were a nightmare at that university. You seriously needed to be highly favored by God, or know someone in the administration or perhaps sleep with someone in order to get campus accommodation. The University had vast tracts of land allocated to it, where more hostels could be built, but the issue of funds, or lack thereof, stood in the way. The administration did not seem too concerned about the plight of the majority of students who lived off campus, forking out inflated public transport fees to and from the university and paying exorbitant rentals to greedy landlords in surrounding suburbs. Just yesterday I listened to a South African news broadcast about a University of Free State (UFS) Rector, Jonathan Jansen, who has taken issue over a racist newspaper advertisement looking for ‘non-affirmative action’ female students seeking private accommodation near the university. Jansen intends to send a complaint to that country’s Human Rights Commission, after having conducted an investigation, which revealed that this accommodation was only open to white students and not their black counterparts.   As I listened to that report in disbelief, I thought: nobody spiritedly fights student battles here, except the students themselves.

In 2012 I completed my Master’s degree at another local state institution, which, despite its prestigious sounding name includes the words ‘Science and Technology’, has little to show for it. Each semester, Harare-based students had to make a plan to submit typed assignments at the university’s poorly located little office on hectic intersection of Leopold Takawira and Samora Machel Avenues. Each time I needed to go there, I had to brace long and hard for parking nightmares. Add to that, we had to submit assignments to a bad tempered clerk who very often went on extended tea breaks and was generally unavailable during lunch hour; the only time that most of us working professionals could get to do this sort of thing. Her excuse was, well, your lunch hour is also my lunch hour. When you did find her in the office, she would first look down her nose at you while slowly sipping from her mug, before shifting laboredly to serve you.  This was not even the worst part. Each time our results for the semester were out, we all jostled to take a peep at pieces of broadsheets pinned on the wall, displaying results alongside student number. We had a respected army Colonel coming along to jostle with us for results pinned on the wall of that little office on Samora and Leopold. While we were forking out a little over a thousand bucks per semester, we were treated like nothing but inconvenient nuisances, and the university did nothing to improve systems. It was as if the university, and its endless tea-break takers were doing us one big favor. The university of ‘science and tech’ did not at the time have e-learning facilities – something that was introduced eons ago back in ’04 at my little celebrated alma mater in Gweru. For two straight years we complained about a lot of these things, even got audience with the University Vice Chancellor at some point. After holding a public meeting with all Harare based students, we never heard from him and nothing changed. Perhaps things are different now.

Graduation was something else. Many of us had never been to the university’s official campus. When we got there on the eve of the graduation day to make graduation attire purchases and do all other necessary processes, there was no signage, direction signs or people to assist you with information on where to go, what to do. There were long and chaotic queues everywhere. The queue for paying university graduation fees was so torturous, I nearly gave up on attending the ceremony altogether. The only thing that stopped me from driving back was the concern that in all that chaos, my certificate and transcript would probably just vanish and never make it to that little corner office on Samora and Leopold.

One of my friends later remarked at a graduation photo of me with a half finished building in the background. She was genuinely shocked that the building was still unfinished after so long. Apparently it had been like that since she started her undergrad studies at that university. I was sure the university faced the usual challenges of limited funds. Or the issue may have just been easily a lack of seriousness, considering the many state of the art vehicles and furniture littering the campus.

Apart from outdated degrees that students are fleeing from, there really are many other things wrong with our educational system. There seems to be a general and very pervasive ‘don’t care’ attitude going around. Many lecturers do not themselves care to stay on top of contemporary new developments in their fields of study, so that they in turn tailor their curriculum appropriately. The world over, medical doctors are now under pressure to stay up to date in their knowledge following new requirements for ‘maintenance of certification’ where they are regularly assessed for competence in a fast changing medical world. The education sector is changing just as fast too and stakeholders in the sector should get with the programme.

Most university students in Zimbabwe are currently unable to afford the $1000 plus tuition fees per semester, in a context where the government is no longer offering student grants. It is estimated that 1 million poor Zimbabwean students will drop out of school this year alone due to the unavailability of social grants. Moreover, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development chairman, Peter Mataruse, said recently that the failure by government to build new state universities and colleges means that the difference of 13 500 students absorbed by current institutions from 40 550 ‘A’ Level students each year will have nothing to do.

In short, our current system is no longer able to absorb all the kids due for tertiary education anyway, so those who can will leave.

In the midst of all these challenges, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Joey Bimha was recently heard lamenting the fact that his ministry might fail to pay school fees for the pampered children of foreign diplomats due to insufficient funding by the Finance Minister.

Really?

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Spirit of Ubuntu, in big and little things…

That gut wrenching moment when you are in the supermarket, and an announcement is made that there is a car on fire outside in the parking lot. All motorists drop shopping baskets and gush out. The relief of finding that its not your car mingles with pity and empathy for the shocked owner of the vehicle thats burning. Some motorists quickly move their vehicles away from the ticking time bomb. You stand there transfixed, at the same time in awe of selfless human beings that risk limb and life itself, trying to put out a fire that threatens to engulf the vehicle of a total stranger. Subconsciously, you find yourself harking back at the time when government made it compulsory for all motorists to carry fire extinguishers in their vehicles, and most of us cursed like hell. To think that that one small fire extinguisher may actually not be enough when it comes to it…

Yesterday I witnessed the staff at Montagu Spar in Harare battle to put out fire from a vehicle parked in their lot. They brought out all the supermarket’s fire extinguishers. They did all they could to help the distraught motorist who momentarily could only just stare and breathe. Although he possibly only managed to salvage the body, because the entire engine got fried indefinitely, worse things could have happened, had people chosen to stand aside and look. It was extremely dangerous, and there was no way of measuring the level of risk these men took being so close to the bonnet, the source of the fire, which was progressively making its way to the petrol tank.

May this spirit of ubuntu persevere. It may well be the only thing that will take us through.

Last time we voted, nobody lost

I do not usually deliberately listen to the so-called ‘urban grooves’ music by the young Zimbabwean artists, mainly because most of it lacks originality. Recently though, I just happened to watch dance hall artist Winky D’s video for his song ‘Vashakabvu’ (the late) and I must say, I developed a new respect for urban-groovers and musical artists in general. As we head towards the elections this month end, the role played by musicians in giving social commentary through sociopolitical satire is almost comparable to the fourth estate role of the media.

In ‘Vashakabvu’, Winky D ‘writes’ a two paragraph letter to the dearly departed of this country, those that never made it into the 90s’, informing them of the happenings and changes that have since taken place in this country over the past decade. He says ‘zvinhu zvachinja rough’ (things have changed drastically) since they died.  Among other things, he alludes to how the Chinese are opening up factories willy-nilly in Zimbabwe, how new and latest technologies coupled with piracy have cheapened and made music so easily available that artists’ families no longer enjoy benefits from royalties. He also makes reference to the ‘born-Facebook’ young people of this country, who have lost the moral compass and get away with skimpy dressing and immoral behavior by simply telling you ‘hausi kuziva zvirikuitika’ (you don’t know what’s happening).

Winky D

Winky D

 But apart from these witty and very hard-hitting words, the subsequent verses are more poignant and speak satirically of some of the most noteworthy developments and governance issues in this country. Winky says:

 Mari yoshandiswa muno ndeye kuAmerica, Zim dollar hapana kana achariyeuka.

(The currency being used now is American, nobody even remembers the Zimbabwean dollar).

This verse speaks of the time when dollarization happened and how much Zimbabweans never want to hear of the Zim dollar again following the traumatic crisis years of food shortages. So much for sovereignty. 

 Hakuchina macallbox, kwaane macellular.

(There are no longer any telephone booths, people now use mobile phones).

 Maboys ‘khaya’ amakavaka aya takapunza, zvakanzi haasi pamutemo asi hamuna kutiudza.

(The home extensions and backyard cottages you built were destroyed because they were apparently illegal, even though nobody highlighted this at the time).

This verse brings very forlorn memories of the government sanctioned urban ‘clean up’ Murambatsvina exercise that left hundreds of families homeless in the winter of 2005.

Magovernment ave mairi vanhu takachooser, takanovhota asi pakashaya akaruza.

(We now have two governments because even though we went to the polls to vote and choose, nobody lost.)

Depending on which version of the song you get, the last verse is replaced by the politically correct alternative words: ‘Kwava ne Unity Government ndinovimba makaudzwa, mapato enyika obatana nyika tosimudza’. I like to call this the ZBC version. Loosely translated, it says that we now have a government of national unity that has led to the unification and up-liftment of the country.

Government of National Unity

Government of National Unity

The long and short of it, with the GNU, we perfected a new system in which in a race, nobody actually loses. Next week as we go again to the polls, it is my sincere hope and that of many a Zimbabwean, that in this election, results will be announced in far less than a month and not everyone will win. It will not only be fair, but frankly we are tired of this charade of a bloated-for-nothing government.

When media practitioners fan hate speech

‘July 31: Who then has the last laugh’ reads Sunday Mail Assistant Editor, Munyaradzi Huni’s most recent offering in that paper. If you did not read it yourself, the article is nothing but a hate speech littered piece of writing full of cringe worthy labels and insulting epithets attached to different individuals, both real and imagined enemies of Zanu PF. Well, it’s hardly surprising, because many times Huni opens his mouth, or rather, puts pen to paper, his guts spill out. As an editor, we can be forgiven for expecting him to strive to uphold the ethics of objective criticism without resorting to insults. From the summary below, it’s hard to believe that at least two thirds of Huni’s article was dedicated to name-calling and denigration.

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Whatever you make of this, some of my colleagues feel that a lot of the descriptions above though hard-hitting, are very apt. I just think that dedicating all that real estate to insults is something that ought to boggle minds. Less than a month ago, Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) Director Andy Moyse had a serious talk with journos about this and the slow effects of losing readers in the process. Huni is not alone. I have read some really shocking things from many newspaper columnists like him, and the things politicians have said about each other. The First Lady herself recently took to the podium at a Zanu PF rally in Chiweshe, and dedicated half of her rant to describing the Prime Minister’s ugliness.

 We can only but expect more of such vitriol this silly season, when professionalism goes straight out the window. But if we can leave hate speech to the politicians, as media practitioners we may be able to show a little respect to our loyal readers who expect some level of objectivity from the people they also expect to play the critical role of fourth estate. And there we are ironically clamoring for media reforms while in the meantime allowing the profession to go to the dogs. Some uncalled for insults only make some people sound like blithering idiots.

Focus on the important things

I have been wondering about the ‘sorrow’ and ‘disappointment’ being felt in certain quarters over the recent Constitutional Court’s ruling to uphold the July 31st election date. Leaders of the different MDC formations had filed an application seeking an extension of the poll date only last month, following the Maputo SADC summit. Among other things, the MDCs argued that Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa had presented a ‘weak’ argument at the Concourt. But what did the MDCs expect, and whose side exactly do they reckon Chinamasa is on? Of course, he was instructed by SADC to undertake a process he personally did not subscribe to, so enough with the whining already. It is time to face the facts and re-strategize.

 At the same time, it has been interesting to try and make sense of what the ‘urgent’ court application to extend the poll date would have accomplished. Picture this; had the Concourt allowed for polls to take place on either August 12 or August 25: what exactly were the MDC formations hoping to achieve in those two or so weeks? Certainly not to facilitate implementation of all outstanding reforms set out in the Global Political Agreement! All the parties had what, how many years, and more than sufficient time to ensure the implementation of necessary reforms. Why scurry now? In any case, the recent official dissolve of Parliament would have made it next to impossible to implement any reforms no? Or perhaps it was a case of them just not being ready and trying to buy time, like being caught unawares kunge varoyi vaedzerwa, my grandfather would say. Even the Concourt rightly questioned why the parties failed to approach the court immediately after its May 29 ruling. Some people have perfected and normalized the culture of doing things last minute in this country.

More than anything, the argument against the early election date should probably have been less selfish and considered issues like the limited and frustrating voter registration process, which unfortunately terminated quite prematurely yesterday. The long queues that could still be seen snaking out of different registration centers yesterday were indicative of how the early poll date only grossly disenfranchises the electorate.

The women’s movement recently took to the RG’s office with a raft of sensible demands that included among other things, a more gender sensitive voter registration exercise that would take into account the need for more time and shorter walking distances, separate queues for men and women, special attention to the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women and women with children. Add to this, requisite nationwide voter education – which has been made clear to be the preserve of ZEC – has hardly started. A lot of people will go to the polls, without actually understanding what they have to do. Perhaps the Concourt would have been more sympathetic had the parties put the interests of people first rather than demonstrate a desperate desire to hold on a little longer onto their political careers.

Today’s papers claim that the political parties are questioning ZEC over the ‘sudden, suspicious ballooning’ of police officers in the election period. If there is any truth in this, it must be said now that these people must stop being preoccupied with the little things and concentrate on their game plan. We have three weeks for crying out loud. Heavy police and army presence are never a shock in Zimbabwe, particularly during silly season.

While many people are desperate for change, the behaviors of these parties do nothing to elicit confidence. We need serious people, who have their eyes on the ball and are willing to sacrifice, even for a little bit, their political interests and put the people first.