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Spooks stifle academic freedom

Academic freedom, which refers to the liberty to research, discuss, publish and disseminate knowledge freely without let or hindrance, is not fully guaranteed on Zimbabwe’s university campuses.

Free discussion, research and dissemination of information by a country’s academia is important not only because everyone, including academics,  have the right not only to freely express their views, but also because their ideas can contribute immensely to good governance.

Lack of academic freedom in Zimbabwe can be attributed solely to the fact that Zimbabwe is ruled by a government which has elements  intolerant to dissent. This means that some lecturers refrain from disseminating certain information to their students out of  fear of  victimisation. As such, students are deprived of examples or data that would be helpful in their studies because those examples or data might portray the government in a bad light. Furthermore, during discussions, lectures and tutorials, students hesitate to proffer negative views of the government out of fear of some form of reprisal. Only very brave lecturers and students air their views freely, thus effectively making academic expression a preserve of the brave; though bravery is a virtue, it should not be a prerequisite for one to express his/her academic views.

Suppression of academic freedom is made possible by the deployment of state security agents on campuses. The government has posted security agents in major tertiary institutions although it is a well- known fact that for academic freedom to prevail, no military intelligence or security personnel or forces of law and order should enter the premises of institutions of  higher education except when there is clear, present or imminent danger to life or property which cannot be avoided without the intervention of these forces.  This is an essential prerequisite of academic freedom that the Zimbabwe  government has on many occasions disregarded.

Another important aspect which is almost synonymous with, but can be differentiated from  academic freedom, is the lack of autonomy  for tertiary institutions  in Zimbabwe.  Autonomy  means the independence of the institutions of higher learning from the state and all other organs of society, to make decisions regarding its internal government, finance, administration, and to establish its own policies of education, research, extension work and other related activities.

In his book The African University and its Mission, Emmanuel Ngara, an education scholar, states that “in terms of autonomy, it is clear that a university in the true sense of the word, should not be run like a government ministry or department and should not have its course content and administrative structures determined by government officials….”

Ngara also notes that for the university to function properly, it should be free from control of political parties, the private sector and other players.

Zack Zechariah MushawatuHarare Province, Zinasu Spokesperson.