HARARE – Despite previous promises to drastically cut the number of the children of President Robert Mugabe’s cronies who are sent out for studies at South African universities under the controversial Presidential Scholarship Programme (PSP), it is business as usual as this week the government indicated that it will be sending another batch of 150 next year.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa ZANU PF in February this year announced that the PSP was going to be scaled down as it was no longer necessary to continue sending students for studies abroad, instead the resources would be channelled towards the development of local vocational training centres.
“The government is going to start reducing the number of students to be funded under the Presidential Scholarship Programme. So far over 5 000 students have graduated under the programme. Now we have over 10 universities in the country and they can enrol many students. The government will now channel resources towards setting up more vocational training centres across the country with an emphasis of skills development. That way we will also churn out more students with skills that will help develop the country,” Mnangagwa was quoted in the State media as saying.
But this week the PSP started inviting applications for 150 students that would be sent to the South African universities. The move goes to prove that Mnangagwa’s announcement, made at a political rally to drum up support for his wife Auxillia in the run-up to the Zibagwe-Chirumhanzu by-election that took place in March, could have been mere political posturing to counter growing criticism of the profligate programme.
Over the years questions have been raised about the logic to continue sending local students to study abroad since the country now has about a dozen universities and over 40 other tertiary colleges compared to the one university that the country had when this programme began.
Set up in 1995 following a bilateral agreement with then President Nelson Mandela’s government, the now partisan scholarship scheme is largely used to fund university studies for children of war veterans and loyal supporters of Mugabe’s ZANU PF party. Though considered a government programme and funded from treasury, students come through the ruling party’s structures in the country’s ten provinces.
Opposition members, whose children are barred from benefiting from this fund, accuse Mugabe of spending public money to bankroll the education of his supporters’ children at foreign universities instead of spending that money on upgrading local institutions to the same standards.
Last year the programme was briefly suspended because of a serious financial squeeze after the government failed to settle bills that had gone unpaid for years.
“We owe South African universities $1 million, hence we decided to suspend enrolling further students until we clear the arrears,” the programme’s administrator Christopher Mushowe—himself a minister in Mugabe’s government—announced at the time.
Seeing the embarrassment the scandal had caused, the government mobilised cash and cleared the bills before reviving the programme.
Most local universities and colleges are in a decrepit state due to poor funding. As of this month, some university staff were still expecting to receive their bonuses for last year, which they were promised would be paid out on July 10.