Mugabe's daughter in eye of student storm

Calls in Harare for the deportation of President Robert Mugabe’s daughter from Hong Kong, where she is studying for a university degree, have turned violent.

Sixty university students have been jailed after clashes with Zimbabwean riot police during rolling demonstrations that started last week. They demanded the expulsion from Hong Kong of 20-year-old Bona Mugabe. The students were also protesting against mounting economic hardship and what they called the “dollarisation of education”.

Police fired tear gas during the protests, which started earlier this month, to prevent students from leaving their campus, but hundreds have breached the blockade and marched through downtown Harare.

“Why is Bona not attending Lupane University or Midlands State [University]?” asked Clever Bere, president of the Zimbabwe National Students’ Union (Zinasu). “Zinasu is urging the University of Hong Kong to deport Bona Mugabe, who is pursuing her studies there. She must come back home and face the same conditions that fellow Zimbabweans are facing in these difficult times. We are incensed by the high level of police brutality,” the student spokesperson said.

Campus protests began in early February when rioting students reportedly stoned cars in a rampage triggered by a hike in tuition to US$1 200 for state university students doing arts, humanities and social sciences, US$1 400 for those in science and technology faculties and US$1 800 for those studying medicine and veterinary science.

Previously tuition was paid for in Zimbabwe dollars.

Student leaders said their classmates were further angered by subsequent demands for an extra US$400 in exam fees, supposed to be paid by 12pm on February 11.

The news of Mugabe’s daughter’s enrolment at the University of Hong Kong broke at the same time as the rise in student fees was announced. Students immediately mounted an online media campaign to pressure the Hong Kong administration to deport the president’s daughter to Zimbabwe. Bona Mugabe, whose father and close associates are banned from entering the United States and the European Union, began studying in Hong Kong under an assumed name last autumn.

Mugabe and his associates turned to Asian universities for their children’s education following Australia’s decision in 2007 to deport eight youngsters whose fathers were accused of propping up the Mugabe government.

The London website ZimDaily, run by expat journalists from banned Zimbabwean newspapers, has been coordinating the campaign to have the president’s daughter deported.

But Beijing is a different kettle of fish. The Chinese government enjoys warm diplomatic ties with the Mugabe administration and is likely to reject calls to send his daughter home, although some rights activists have questioned whether she should be allowed to stay.

Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai said: “A child who has not done anything wrong should not be asked to take the burden of the wrongs of their parents. [But] if the money she is spending was siphoned off ordinary people, there is a problem. Just like other members of the international community, Hong Kong should do its part in imposing sanctions.” The Hong Kong government said it had no comment.

Chipo Sithole is a pseudonym of an IWPR-trained reporter in Zimbabwe

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