Tension is mounting at the Copperbelt University (CBU) where students are mobilising themselves to stage a big protest against the school’s administrative decision to ban squatting in dormitories, where dire accommodation shortages have led students to occupy certain buildings.
According the Copperbelt Students Union president Oscar Mbewe, the students would stage a demonstration against the university administration decision enforcing the ban against squatting.
In an interview from Kitwe, Mbewe said enforcing the ban against squatting at the CBU was not possible because of the acute shortage of accommodation.
The CBU had over 10, 000 students but only 2, 000 are accommodated because of the shortage of dormitories.
Some students were picked up by the police at the weekend for spending nights in corridors, laboratories and other spaces at CBU.
But in the interview, Mbewe said scores of students have resorted to a hunger strike to press management against enforcing the ban.
He said students would take to the streets in order to get the attention of the CBU management as well as that of Education Minister John Phiri because this was the language they understood.
Mbewe who confirmed the planed public protest said the students met on Monday and resolved to mobilize themselves for a major demonstration.
“We are in a very tight situation as union leaders. These students can even descend on us. We had to intervene as a union to convince and stop the students from implementing the planned protest but they listened to us in view of continued dialogue so that we can resolve the matter in peace,” he said.
He said the students were on standby to stage the protest and they were being led by the ‘monks’, a popular term that refers to male students that do not have girlfriends. Mbewe said the monks had mobilized themselves to stop CBU security personnel from evicting squatters at the university.
“The situation was so bad on Saturday after the students fought running battles with the university security guards who were sent to search and evict squatters. The management must handle this matter carefully because it can get out of hand. We have many students who are ready to face the police when they come. “We who are in the union, together with many other students have gone on hunger strike because we want to get the attention of management so that they can reverse the decision to ban squatting on the university campus. We don’t want to be violent and this is why we have decided to go on hunger strike so that the vice-chancellor can develop a soft heart,” Mr Mbewe said.
In Lusaka, word has filtered through to the University of Zambia (UNZA), where the Great East Road campus students are also planning to protest a ban on squatting in the dormitories.
The students said UNZA management should learn to dialogue instead of taking harsh decisions realising that the university had an acute shortage of bed space.
The students at UNZA said protesting was the only language management and government understood, instead of dialogue.
In separate interviews last week, UNZA students also said they were worried at President Michael Sata’s continued silence on the problems that had engulfed institutions of higher learning in Zambia.