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After Protest, Zimbabwe Shuts Down Leading University


Riot police forced all students at the University of Zimbabwe to leave the Harare campus late Monday, including those in residential housing who had nowhere to spend the night. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA from southern Africa that the closure of the university followed a weekend demonstration against a sudden hike in school fees.

Harare riot police moved onto the campus of the University of Zimbabwe after Vice Chancellor Levy Nyagura ordered its closure.

About 4,000 students were at the university when the police arrived. The students had a small demonstration over the weekend protesting the increase tuition following a month long strike by lecturers early in the year.

Many students at the university live in the crumbling residential halls as their homes are in the rural areas.

Student union spokesman Benjamin Nyandoro said after the closure that many students had nowhere to stay and would have to sleep in the streets. He said students were due to start exams next week.

The university, which used to be one one of the best in Africa, is now in a state of disrepair. There is little equipment left in any of the laboratories, and most of the basic facilities of an academic institution no longer function. The parking lot outside the university is covered in tall grass.

There are almost no cleaning facilities in the dormitories; maintenance work ceased about four years ago.

The campus literally stinks and the dorms have been described by many students as unfit for human occupation. Nevertheless, few students can afford to rent accommodations off campus.

A senior lecturer at the university, who was on campus when the riot police arrived, said students were roughly treated when they were evicted.

This university has in the past produced many of Zimbabwe's most successful academics and businessmen,

Lecturers have repeatedly gone on strike in the last two years protesting that they are not paid a living wage.

The university now has less than half the number of teaching staff it needs, according to statistics published in the independent press in Zimbabwe. Academics say educational standards have dropped significantly in the last five years.

Most of Zimbabwe's political leaders and top businessmen send their children to South Africa or overseas for higher education.

The university of Zimbabwe was a hotbed of anti-government protests until about 15 years ago, but since then there have been few demonstrations or student involvement in opposition politics. Most of the protests in recent years have been about the cost of living on campus.

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