Mugabe's Daughter in Eye of Student Storm

Students say it’s not right for her to be studying in Hong Kong while they struggle to get a decent education.

Mugabe's Daughter in Eye of Student Storm

Students say it’s not right for her to be studying in Hong Kong while they struggle to get a decent education.

Friday, 20 February, 2009
Calls in Harare for the deportation of the president's daughter from Hong Kong where she is studying for a university degree have turned violent.

Sixty university students have been jailed in clashes with Zimbabwe riot police during rolling demonstrations that started last week demanding the expulsion from Hong Kong of 20-year-old Bona Mugabe. The students were also protesting against mounting economic hardship, and what they called the "dollarisation of education".

Police have fired tear gas during the protests that started on February 3 to prevent students from leaving their campus, but hundreds have breached the blockade and marched through downtown Harare.

"Why is Bona not attending Lupane University or Midlands State [University]?" said Clever Bere, president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, ZINASU. "ZINASU is urging the University of Hong Kong to deport Bona Mugabe who is pursuing her studies there. She must come back home and face the same conditions that fellow Zimbabweans are facing in these difficult times."

A 22-year-old student is in the intensive care unit after being injured during clashes at the University of Zimbabwe's main campus in Harare. A police spokesman said the student was trampled, but a student spokesman put the injuries down to police violence. He said about 30 students have received medical treatment this week.

"We are incensed by the high level of police brutality," the student spokesman said.

A statement from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, ZLHR, said, "ZLHR is disgusted by the continued use of violence by the police force against defenceless citizens and the arbitrary arrests, detention and subsequent release of detainees without charge, meant simply to harass students and prevent them from exercising their fundamental right to assembly and expression."

Campus protests began early last week, when rioting students reportedly stoned cars in a rampage triggered by a hike in tuition to 1,200 US dollars for state university students doing arts, humanities and social sciences; 1,400 dollars for those in science and technology faculties; and 1,800 dollars for those studying medicine and veterinary science.

Previously tuition was paid for in Zimbabwe dollars.

Student leaders said their classmates were further angered by subsequent demand for an extra 400 dollars in exam fees, supposed to be paid by 12 noon on February 11.

Details that the daughter of the controversial Zimbabwean ruler was studying in Hong Kong emerged after her 43-year-old mother, Grace, allegedly assaulted freelance photographer Richard Jones as he took pictures of her shopping in Tsim Sha Tsui in January while on holiday.

Angry students, most of them children of poor peasants, and poorly paid teachers, policemen, soldiers and bank workers immediately accused Mugabe of being impervious to the suffering caused by the total economic collapse he had caused. They charged he was sending his children to foreign universities while tertiary institutions in his country were collapsing.

Zimbabwe's economy is crumbling and students have complained for several months of delays in receiving their allowances from the cash-strapped education ministry. They have also protested against the rising costs of food, accommodation and books. Most of the lecturers have stayed away because of poor remuneration and students have had to subsidise the academics to get them to continue teaching.

The news of Mugabe’s daughter’s enrolment at the University of Hong Kong broke at the same time as the rise in student fees was announced. Students immediately mounted an online media campaign to pressure the Hong Kong administration to deport the president's daughter back to Zimbabwe.

Bona Mugabe, whose father and close associates are banned from entering the United States and the European Union, began studying in Hong Kong under an assumed name last autumn.

Mugabe and his associates are turning to Asian universities for their children's education following Australia's decision to deport eight youngsters in 2007 whose fathers were accused of propping up the Mugabe government. The United States has said five students involved in "anti-democratic" activities would be deported, but has not said when or given their names.

Zimbabwean newspapers are now awash with advertisements offering students places at Asian universities, mostly in Malaysia.

The London website ZimDaily, run by expat journalists from banned Zimbabwean newspapers, has been co-ordinating the campaign to have the president's daughter deported.

The media campaign has already paid some dividends, given the deportation by Australia of children of the ruling party’s elites.

However, Beijing is a different kettle of fish. The Chinese government enjoys warm diplomatic ties with the Mugabe administration and is likely to reject calls to send the president’s daughter home, although some rights activists have questioned whether she should be allowed to stay.

Hong Kong Human Rights monitor director Law Yuk-kai said, "A child who has not done anything wrong should not be asked to take the burden of the wrongs of their parents. [But] if the money she is spending was siphoned off ordinary people, there is a problem. Just like other members of the international community, Hong Kong should do its part in imposing sanctions."

ZimDaily editor Munamato Maiswa said the aim of the media campaign is to expose the hypocrisy of Mugabe.

"If you actually try to look at it from a moral point of view one can easily dismiss the campaign and say we are targeting the wrong people," Maiswa said. "So what we are saying here is there are many ways of applying pressure on the regime. One of the ways is obviously targeting the beneficiaries of Mugabe's rule and in this case the kids; these are people who are benefiting from what is happening in Zimbabwe."

The Hong Kong government said in a statement it had no comment.

Mugabe, who turns 85 on February 21, has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence from Britain in 1980. He has been accused of overseeing the country's economic collapse. His policies have seen schools shut, and the health sector collapsing, leading to a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 3,000. Millions of Zimbabweans – more than half the population – are dependent on international food aid.

On February 13, Mugabe swore into office an inclusive government comprising members of his party and the opposition.

The new administration has prioritised the rescuscitation of the education sector. The education ministry has gone to the Arthur Mutambara faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, but the higher and tertiary ministry has been kept by ZANU-PF.

Chipo Sithole is a pseudonym of an IWPR-trained reporter in Zimbabwe.
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