Students of The University of Zimbabwe have reportedly vowed not to write their examinations until the country’s controversial President, Robert Mugabe steps down from office.
The protest was stirred after Robert Mugabe went live on state TV to defy the nation and lay out his plans for staying in power.
Like most Zimbabweans, they had expected it to be a resignation message from the 93-year-old leader, reports The Guardian. Mugabe has ruled the country since long before they were born and in recent decades has driven its economy into the ground, to the particular detriment of young people.
“We were so angry, that was not cool,” 19-year-old Rouvarashe said of Mugabe’s unexpected defiance. “We were expecting him to step down, those were the magic words.”
And so they responded by going on strike, agreeing in a flurry of text messages to boycott exams the next day.
They gathered about half an hour before the first tests outside exam halls, singing and chanting “no exams until the president resigns”. None of the scheduled morning assessments went ahead.
Skipping tests might sound like the laziest and most self-indulgent of protests, a caricature of student activism, but missing exams puts degrees at risk. For the average student, marks from these exams account for about 15% of their final degree.
Young Zimbabweans graduate into a workforce grappling with up to 90% youth unemployment, so risking a lower class of degree is no small sacrifice. But all the students gathered at the protest said the chance of changing the government was more important than their academic prospects.
“Its important for me to write an exam, but its also equally important for my nation to be redeemed,” said Admire Matarutse, 27. a real-estate marketing student.
He said the students at the heart of the capital felt a responsibility to speak for poorer Zimbabweans who were isolated in rural areas.
“As much as we want to get our degrees, as much as we prepared for the exams, what we are doing is important for the rest of the nation too,” he said. “There are some people in villages whose voices are not heard – we need to speak for them.”
Other students at the protest shrugged off the economic sacrifice, pointing out that the jobs market was so dire that their degrees felt almost worthless.
“Why should we go to school if our brothers and sister graduated before us and are still unemployed,” said Gerald, 19, who said his three older siblings were jobless graduates. “Why should I work hard for a degree?”
Much of the anger was directed at Mugabe, who is chancellor of the university as well as leader of Zimbabwe. But students were also frustrated about a doctorate awarded to Mugabe’s wife, Grace, in 2014.