Lusaka — University of Zambia will only re-open the next academic year after negotiations for salaries are concluded and implemented, University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers' Union (UNZALARU) president Trywell Kalusopa has said.
Addressing journalists and union members in Lusaka yesterday, Kalusopa said if the lecturers' demands were not met, the University would not open. "We demand that negotiations must immediately commence and be concluded and implemented before commencement of the next academic year.
Payment of contractual obligations must be paid immediately and in full. Failure to fulfil this condition renders the re-opening of the University irrelevant," he said. Kalusopa said the perennial late payment of salaries shall no longer be condoned.
"Once this happens, we reserve the right to withdraw our labour. There must be an immediate improvement and re-stocking of the University library, laboratories and other teaching facilities," he said. "This time around we will resist with appropriate vigour and able militancy until the government conforms to the genuine agendas of rewarding excellence rather than political opportunism.
We will meet head on." Kalusopa explained that UNZA owed 450 retirees more than K25 billion since 1996, while long services bonus stood at K2.2 billion, leave pay was K1.2 billion and K700 million for journal subscriptions.
He said if government did not honour its obligations, re-opening should remain in the minister's head. "One month ago, they increased their salaries. That is irresponsible. We are not going to allow that as people with impeccable education," he said.
"If this country is going through a painful process, it must start with leaders." Kalusopa said whereas politicians increased their allowances and got the money before going to constituencies, lecturers had gone through the festive season without salaries. He said lecturers were now fatigued and tired.
"It's a cause that we shall fight until the last drop of our blood," he said. Kalusopa said most schools at the University were lacking staff because most of them, who were trained at a high cost to the government, had left the country.
"The nation needs to know that although we have invested our impeccable academic credentials, rare skills and international lives and acumen in this country, we have instead been pauperised and attenuated to dangerous stages of self-misconceptualisation," he said. "Let it be known that we are not campaigning for a culture of comfort.
The nation must appreciate that the few Zambians who are struggling to stay on at UNZA are doing so out of humane patriotism for the country." Kalusopa said the lecturers' missionary zeal must not be misconstrued to a point where even the minimum conditions of survival were taken away. "As the Bible says, even a slave is worth his own wage," he said. Kalusopa said the 1999 University Act was a bad and draconian piece of legislation that was pushed down the workers' throat.
"We therefore believe that in its current state and form, the Act completely erodes academic freedom and the autonomy of the University," he said. Kalusopa said the University library, laboratories and other facilities have reached an alarming degree of dilapidation. "The University library in particular is full of archaic books that are not in tune with contemporary issues of development.
The ratio of access to computers amongst students is appalling," he said. Kalusopa said although last year's budget had allocated K5 billion from the HIPC funds towards the rehabilitation of infrastructure, only a paltry K500 million was released.
"If as Zambians, we let this government destroy the engine of national development like the University then we must agree to roll a curtain of ignorance and poverty over ourselves," he said.
Another lecturer Dr. Parnwell Munatamba cited a poem in which he said Zambian lecturers' talents were not been appreciated. Dr. Munatamba asked government to take time and listen to the plight of the intelligentsia. At the end of the meeting, all the lecturers agreed in unison, that if their demands were not met, they would not teach.