Female students at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo College in Gwanda have turned to gold panning and mopane worm harvesting in a bid to raise the soaring rental and college fees as the institution has threatened them with expulsion if they fail to raise the required amounts.
So dire is the situation at the Matabeleland South institution of higher education that most students are now exposed to criminal gangs who are already taking advantage of the vulnerable females’ desperation most of them who come from poor backgrounds and unable to make ends meet as the cost of both private and college accommodation has reached unaffordable levels.
According to some female students, the cost of learning at the institution has risen and most of the students are failing to pay for their upkeep and daily needs.
The college is demanding top-up fees of up to $4000 Zimbabwe dollars from the students. To worsen their plight home owners are demanding R250 as rent per student, while college lecturers have also been accused of taking advantage of the students’ desperation by charging exorbitant fees for stationery, photocopying and other college needs.
“We are suffering the college has told us not to report for lectures if we have not paid top-up fees and this semester’s fees, we have to look for accommodation which is charged in South African Rand, buy food, stationery and make sure that we are presentable at the college,” said Final year student Simangaliso Mudau.
She said together with some of the female students now wake up early every weekend and travel more than twenty kilometres in search of the mopane worms which they harvest, dry and sell to raise money for food, rent and save the remainder for school fees. Others students are reportedly doing menial jobs such as washing and cleaning houses for lecturers and other residents in order to raise money for their upkeep.
“It is hard life at college, now that amacimbi are scarce, we have turned to gold panning, there are criminals who sometimes steal our gold ore and threaten us with violence, but we just surrender everything we have, we cannot report to the police because gold panning is illegal so we just suffer in silence. Some of my friends have been sexually assaulted, while others are willingly giving themselves to men in exchange for money,” said Soneni Nkala another final year student.
Nurses at the campus clinic confirmed treating both male and female students of sexually transmitted related infection but were quick to dismiss the cases as caused by the latest developments where students are reportedly engaging in sexual activities with gold panners in the mining town.
According to the National Aids Council (NAC) Gwanda has the highest prevalence rate of HIV and sexually transmitted infections in the Province.
Already some Women’s Rights Organisations have expressed concern over the unfair treatment of female students at these institutions of higher learning where women are exposed to some of these dangerous vices because of their vulnerable positions as compared to their male counterparts.
Association of Rural Women and Better House Holds an organization that advocates for women’s rights in Shanyaugwe in rural Gwanda said it was deeply concerned by the suffering of the female students at the institution and said they tried to engage the Principal but to no avail.
“These are women just like us, it was better if they went to harvest macimbi for their families, but not for resale so that they can sustain themselves at college or pay fees, they are supposed to learning to be better citizens of tomorrow instead of panning a for gold and doing these menial jobs where they are exposed to dangerous criminals,” said Mrs Monica Ndlovu the Secretary-General of the Organisation.
Students confirmed that the situation at the college was so bad that they are attending classes in unfinished buildings with no electricity or water as a result of load shedding and water rationing a situation that is threatening them with disease, the college has also doubled its enrolment despite it not having the necessary facilities to cater for the number of students.
Officials at the college confirmed that there were more than three student intakes sharing the meagre facilities, there is overcrowding and the atmosphere at the college is reportedly chaotic. The Library which is supposed to be used by final year students for research is now used as a lecture hall, Wi-Fi facilities for internet access and research have been disrupted as a result of erratic electricity supplies
“Yes things are bad at the college we did not plan for this, the whole country is facing serious economic challenges and we can not pretend to an exception, we are suffering just like everybody else,” said a senior official at the college.
He professed ignorance that students were panning for gold in order to eke out a living.
“Honestly even if they do it is none of the college’s business, what they do on their spare time is none of our business, how they raise their fees is also none of our business, we just want our money that is all,” he said.
Although the minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Professor Amon Murwira assured students that they will access loans to pay for their fees through the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe (CBZ) under the $ 900 million dollar facility, the colleges have not disbursed the application form to the students opting that they pay cash from their own coffers instead.
A number of tertiary institutions in the country have also upped their fees amid student unrest which may culminate in a showdown if unchecked.
“‘We have been trying to get the forms but we cannot access them from the administration, the few students who got them had to pay $100, yet they are for free, this is corruption at its highest level and we are threatened with expulsion on a daily basis, the situation is terrible at this institution,” said Mudau.
Professor Murwira said students should have free access to the loans and make necessary arrangements on how best they can repay the loans and should not have learning disrupted as a result of non-payment of fees.