This past week has seen a deep outcry following the death of 4th year University of Zambia student Vespers Shimunzhila , who lost her life at the hands of police brutality during a riot at the higher learning institution.
From late night vigils to peaceful marches and protests by students and alumni dressed in black to honor the life of the slain student as they mourned her death; the deep sense of sadness could be felt miles away.
As a former University of Zambia student this story really hit home.
This could have been me. This could have been any one of us.
I too am ex- UNZA, graduated last year, I was one of those students paying for my own tuition . A larger percent of students rely on government funding (allowances now called Government Loans) to get an education, pay for their boarding, buy food , books and all other educational requirements as needed. Without which they don’t stand a chance at participating in daily life as a student.
You see the high school I went to was a private school. The experience of attending a government institution afterwards really opened my eyes to situations quite different from those of my high school friends. An experience I’m grateful for. What I see now, that I never realized then, was the invaluable lesson my father was trying to teach me. He sent me to an institution where I would meet people from all walks of life. That I may know the different situations of some of my new friends, and the majority of Zambians as a whole. Going out into the world post-grad, I have greater clarity as a result of this experience. Clarity I hope to use to make a difference.
My experience gave me insight into just what it means for the Zambian female to get an education. Insight into the obstacles they face along with their male counter parts, but even more so. Most of which are untold.
Vesper Shimunzhila’s story is just the tip of the iceburg.
It saddens me to think that in a country where only 0.14% of females aged 20-22 have completed their tertiary/higher education; the parents of this young woman sent their daughter to university to be the change they wanted to see in our country, only to be killed at the hands of officers who thought throwing deadly amounts of lachrymater (also known as teargas) into the rooms of students was a solution. To think that they went about their dogmatic business as she suffocated. It’s heart wrenching.
On that fatal day, students at the higher learning institution were fighting to get student loans that were due to them since August. One asks: how were they able to survive all this time? Especially those from vulnerable backgrounds.
While I may never fully understand the scope of what it feels like to solely rely on the government to provide funding in order to get an education, I deeply empathize.
The sad reality is, that riots and teargas are somewhat a rite of passage for University of Zambia students.
With the political climate, corruption, and misuse of public funds intended for the institution and its students- riots are inevitable.
What shouldn’t be inevitable, is the police brutality that goes along with it.
As African women we fight everyday. To be educated, to be seen, to have our voices heard, to get a seat at the table.
Vespers Shimunzhila could have very well been the first female president, but now we’ll never know.
And ultimately the four most painful things about the Vespers case are:
1. It was only 3 months to her graduation.
2. She was the only child to her parents.
3. She was not even part of the protesters.
4. She didn’t receive any government loans or assistance of any kind .
While officials are bent on blaming economically deprived students for her death, let us remember her name.
Let her death not be in vain.
Let her death be the voice the world hears to bring to attention the brutality Zambia’s vulnerable youth face at the hands of those meant to serve and protect them.