HIGHER education minister Professor Nkandu Luo has likened the behaviour of Copperbelt University students who rioted on April 3 to that of “people who smoke dagga.”
Dagga is the South African word for cannabis.
Prof Luo, who featured on ZNBC TV’s Sunday Interview programme, said there was need to understand the behaviour of students because there was “definitely” something the learners were doing.
Copperbelt University (CBU) students rioted on April 3 following a decision by the University management to suspend union leaders.
Prof Luo then announced an indefinite closure of the university on April 5.
The minister refused to divulge the sort of security systems that would be installed at the CBU before its reopening.
“We are dealing with a group of people that…. But we need to understand ‘who is behind this behaviour of students.’ Definitely, there is something that they are doing. If I had to say let me not get into a space where people will be saying Professor Luo was accusing us, only people who smoke dagga can behave like that. In the morning, because they hadn’t smoked, they are okay. Lunch time they go and smoke [and] they change, next day they go and apologise!” Prof Luo said.
“But I know [that] there is something that is making the students behave like that and I want us to find out but I don’t want to share with you.”
She noted that CBU students agreed with the university’s vice-chancellor Professor Naison Ngoma on Sunday, March 31 that they were going to call-off their black Monday (April 1) and that “they are going to go and take the exams.”
“Monday morning the exams started [but at] 14:00 hours something changes; they go and block the examination centre!” Prof Luo said.
“Tuesday they went to see His Excellency President Chagwa Lungu and apologised because on Monday night they broke the cafeteria, looted the food and everything. On Wednesday, they are breaking the council’s office, academic office, Vice-Chancellor’s office, dean of mines’ office, lecture theatres for sciences!”
Prof Luo noted that education ought to be an issue where Zambians converged.
She added that the tendency of “politicising education must come to an end because if we destroy education, we’ll be a lost nation.”
“Whether you are opposition, part of the ruling party, the press, education is the equaliser of everything – the poor and the rich. Countries that have developed, countries that are standing tall, some of them with nothing…. You look at Israel, a desert, [but] today we are going to Israel to learn things. Why? Because they put education at the centre of analysis!” Prof Luo said.
She claimed that she was one minister who had an open door policy.
“I’m one minister who talks to everybody, including students. The unions have come to see me and they go away with their opinion,” she said.
Reminded that some people wanted to ‘crucify’ her for telling lecturers that they could resign if they were not happy and on whether it was true that she said that, Prof Luo responded: “of course, not!”
“I never had a chance to even get an interview. The press decides to write what they want to write,” she said.
On the decision by the government to scrap meal allowances for first year students at the University of Zambia (UNZA) and the CBU, the minister ‘clarified’ that “the rest of the students are still getting their meal allowances.”
Asked by the programme host Grevazio Zulu if it was erroneous to say the government had abolished meal allowances for first year students at the two public universities, Prof Luo gave what she thinks should have been the headline in the media.
“It wasn’t the headline! The headline should have been ‘more universities getting support’ because that was the message. Government was saying now we are going to support all our children and not only [at] two universities. The argument was that ‘no, students at UNZA are vulnerable.’ [But] tell me which students are not vulnerable!” Prof Luo explained.
“Why should students at Nkrumah and their parents be paying…. Do you know what that has done? We have too many students going to University of Zambia and CBU [such that] even our accommodation cannot support, our lecture rooms cannot support. Why? Because students say that’s where the support systems are.”
She further explained where the money the government, through the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Board (HELSB), had recovered from beneficiaries of the students’ loan scheme was going.
“You know what, that’s why I have introduced an accountability policy so that people start seeing how much money has been paid back. The last time I announced that we have only received K11 million,” Prof Luo disclosed.
“Now go and look at the expenditure for students at the university. It’s a lot of money! We’ll only probably be saying we have enough money maybe when we have collected for two, three years.”
Meanwhile, on whether or not she was worried that Zambian universities did not rank very well internationally, Prof Luo asked “which minister would not be worried?”
“In fact, before me being worried, I would expect my staff to be worried at the universities. By now they would be the first ones to be putting systems in place that will make them celebrated,” said Prof Luo.