The Zimbabwe crisis: how universities are helping Zim students cope

    Over the past two days, Zimbabwe’s political future has taken a sudden turn. Military vehicles drove into the capital Harare with orders from General Constantino Chiwenga to reclaim Zimbabwe from criminals.

    There are about 200 000 Zimbabweans living and studying in South Africa. The political instability that has beset their home country means that there is some uncertainty around how their families are doing, if they’ll be able to go back home, and if they’ll be able to return in 2018 to study.

    The Daily Vox spoke to university student representative councils (SRCs) to find out what they’re doing for Zimbabwean students.

    Nelson Mandela University (NMU)
    In a statement released on Facebook on Thursday, the NMU SRC said it understands the current situation might be causing anxiety for Zimbabwean students. “We will be engaging with the Office for International Education to discuss the possible assistance and services for Zimbabwean students,” read the statement. SRC president Bamanye Matiwane, told The Daily Vox the SRC will be approaching the university to ask it to intervene if any Zimbabwean students need assistance. “The university must intervene in helping them because they are a main part of our community and we can’t leave them,” he said.

    Matiwane said the SRC will propose that the university should provide stranded students with accommodation.

    If Zimbabwean students have any questions or concerns, they can email

    University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)
    Wits SRC president Orediretse Masebe told The Daily Vox that the SRC hasn’t been approached by any students in distress. “I did speak to one student yesterday and he said to me that everything was ok, there were no problems,” he said. Masebe said it has only heard about the situation in Zimbabwe from news reports. The SRC’s main concern is if Zimbabwean students will be able to return next year. He said that historically, Zimbabwean students have had issues with renewing their study permits and now given the political instability, this casts doubt on whether they’ll be issued with new permits. “Right now we’re trying to look at how the university can engage with the department of home affairs and try and see how they can assist to make sure that they are able to return to the university,” Masebe said.

    Masebe said they’ll be able to assist students who can’t get back home over the holidays with some accommodation. “We always have a number of rooms that we allocate to students who need to stay over to write supplementary exams,” he said.

    University of Johannesburg (UJ)
    Cliffort Phetla, president of the UJ SRC said it hasn’t been approached by their Zimbabwean students. “I can safely say students at this university are not affected. We are continuing with the examinations, everything is normal,” he said.

    Phetla said if students feel their lives will be at risk if they return to Zimbabwe, the SRC can help them apply for an extension of stay in the residences. “The university does allow that,’ he said.

    The University Currently Known As Rhodes (UCKAR)
    The UCKAR SRC’s international affairs councillor Graham Maruta told The Daily Vox that those students who are too scared to go home can apply for extended stay on campus with the res wardens. Maruts also said that those living off campus can approach the SRC to get accommodation in the residences.

    If the instability is protracted, Maruts said the SRC will help the students figure something out. Exams end next week Friday. “We hope that between now and then things are resolved. If things go beyond that plans will be made,” he said.

    The SRC office has also provided Zimbabwean students access to its telephones if they need to get in touch with family back home. Students can also email the SRC at if they have any questions or concerns.

    University of Pretoria
    Tuks SRC’s marketing, media and communications representative Kyle Goosen told The Daily Vox that students’ main needs were to get means to call their families back home. They can visit the SRC’s offices and use their phones. From next week, they’ll have to email to set up an appointment.

    Goosen said the postgraduate department is working on organising accommodation with Tuks Res in their postgraduates’ residences. “The possibility is to work with Tuks Res to try and get them temporary accommodation in those residences,” he said.

    The SRC will also provide students that need counselling services to any students affected by the situation in Zimbabwe. “If any other needs come up, we’ll deal with them on a case-by-case basis,” said Goosen.

    Featured image by Dana Da Silva