Police suffocate UNZA student to death following meal allowance protest

By Staff Reporter

A fourth year University of Zambia Adult Education student has died due to teargas that was fired by police officers at irate students protesting the government’s non-payment of their meal allowances.

And the University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers’ Union (UNZALARU) has threatened industrial unrest over late payment of salaries.

On Thursday night, students took to the Monk Square within the university grounds and nearby Great East Road to protest against the delayed payment of their meal allowances by the government.

The students burnt tyres and made bornfires to register their displeasure at the Edgar Lungu-led PF administration. The students’ union that used to advocate on behalf of the UNZA students on such matters was banned by higher education minister Prof Nkandu Luo earlier in the year.

“Our meal allowances have delayed because ZANACO is refusing to avail UNZA to the overdraft facility it has with the bank,” one student told NewsdayZambia.com hours before the protest. “There is a lot of poverty and suffering in these hostels. If only people knew my real financial situation, they would be shocked.”

When the riots started in the night, police officers were deployed to the country’s primary institution of higher learning to quell the volatile situation by throwing teargas canisters and pursuing some of the fleeing students to the hostels.

“I am safe at the boarding house. One student, a fourth year died due to teargas,” another student disclosed on condition of anonimity. “She’s Vesper. She was doing adult education and I think she was in the room that was on fire at October 1 Hostel.”

And a source confirmed the death a fourth-year student saying, “two rooms burnt after police threw teargas cannisters in the rooms. The student died due to suffocation”.

Police are yet to confirm the fatality but most students have decided to stay away from classes this morning with final examinations only weeks away.

And UNZALARU general secretary Dr Kelvin Mambwe, warned that UNZA is on the verge of industrial unrest with grave consequences to its academic calendar following late payment of the September salaries.

“The UNZALARU calls on the Government to urgently remit the financial grants due to the University of Zambia in order to avoid any disruption of academic operations at the nation’s highest learning institution,” Dr Mambwe stated in a press release. “The public may wish to know that, for its operations, the University of Zambia survives on internally generated resources and a monthly grant from the Government totalling K39 million. Of this amount, K15 million represents tuition fees from those students sponsored by the Government.”

The Government, UNZALARU alleges, has hardly paid its monthly statutory commitments to UNZA on time.

“It is this delay which, earlier this year, forced the University management to rely on overdrafts through a commercial bank (ZANACO), to pay salaries of employees. This is a very unsustainable and expensive initiative but one that Management had to undertake to ensure industrial harmony at the institution. From August 2018, however, the Government stopped paying the grant altogether for unexplained reasons,” Dr Mambwe narrated. “It is for this reason that the University, which is not in a position to pay staff salaries from internally generated resources alone, is now on the verge of industrial unrest with potentially adverse consequences to its calendar, performance and ranking.”

Even commercial banks, according to Dr Mambwe, were now reluctant to extend overdrafts to the University, owing to the unpaid arrears occasioned by the Government’s unexplained failure to remit the statutory grants for August and September.

“UNZALARU has taken the unusual step of issuing this statement to facilitate public understanding of the impeding industrial unrest at UNZA, one that is a result of the Government’s callous attitude towards higher education.
The staff at the University of Zambia have been accustomed to neglect from the Government, but it appears that this neglect is NOW becoming an actual policy,” the statement read. “UNZALARU members have not been paid their salaries for September and there is no indication when they will be paid. This issue does not only affect University staff but all government employees. Zambia is in a difficult fiscal position, and it is likely that Government will introduce painful spending cuts, that the Kwacha will depreciate even further, and that the price of essential commodities including electricity will soon increase, as did that of fuel”.

Other groups of workers, UNZALARU points out, will soon find their salaries delayed or diminishing.

“One group of state employees who do not appear to be affected are Constitutional office holders. We note with incredulity that the salaries of the President,
Secretary to the Cabinet, Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, Attorney-General, Solicitor-General, Director of Public Prosecutions, Auditor General, Public Protector and Permanent Secretaries were increased in August and even backdated to January this year,” Dr Mambwe noted. “This is outrageous when sources of revenue are drying up and the government is failing to meet its obligations to more important social sectors such as education. In the past, UNZALARU members have often directed their actions against University Management. In this instance, it is clear that it is the Government at fault.”

The Union demanded that the Government releases the K78 million owed to UNZA to enable the University management pay the salaries of its members and other employees.

“Our members have bills to pay and other financial obligations that cannot be delayed. Finally, we note that the Minister of Higher Education, Prof Nkandu Luo, has always been swift to condemn our members when they have taken actions such as go-slows to protest their mistreatment by university authorities. However, she has not uttered a single word of protest or of any assistance to resolve the matter of unpaid salaries,” stated Dr Mambwe. “If Prof Luo is unmoved by the plight of those she is supposed to serve, then what will? If she is interested in the smooth functioning of the University and the well-being of UNZA’s staff, we urge her to persuade her colleagues in Government to do the right thing: release the grants owed to the University immediately.”

The agreement between UNZALARU and UNZA is such that the staff should be paid their salaries by the 20th of each month and that if no wages are paid by the end of the month, the unionised workers should down tools.