Education vs politics

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 February, 2009, 12:00am

Zimbabwe is 10,000km away from Hong Kong, but the enrolment of Bona Mugabe at City University of Hong Kong is forcing the city to think about its relationship with this far-flung African state.

Last week it emerged that Miss Mugabe, the 19-year-old daughter of Zimbabwe's despotic 'president-for-life' Robert Mugabe, had entered the university as a first-year student. It is believed she secretly transferred from the University of Hong Kong, according to the South China Morning Post.

The news sparked an immediate outcry - outside of Hong Kong. Many parties have urged local officials to deport Miss Mugabe on account of her father's shocking human rights record. In Australia, for instance, eight Zimbabwean students were deported in 2007, and early this month the United States deported at least five Zimbabwean students involved in 'anti-democratic' activities.

Student unions from Zimbabwe have taken the lead in urging Hong Kong to send Miss Mugabe home.

'She must come back home and face the same conditions that fellow Zimbabweans are facing in these difficult times,' said Clever Bere, president of Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu).

In a letter presented to the Chinese embassy in Harare, another Zinasu spokesperson, Blessing Vavu, said Mr Mugabe's daughter should come 'back home to suffer with other patriotic students studying in the state universities'.

She wrote: 'Colleges and universities in the country have failed to open since 2008 because of, among other reasons, exorbitant and dollarisation of fees, lecturers striking over poor remuneration, and the serious brain drain of staff resulting in students failing to sit for examinations.'

In Hong Kong, however, the debate has only just begun. Emily Lau Wai-hing, Democratic Party vice-chairwoman, and Law Yuk-Kai, director of Human Rights Monitor in Hong Kong, were the first to publicly call for a review of the decision to admit Ms Mugabe.

Mr Law previously told the Post: 'A child who has not done anything wrong should not be asked to take the burden of the wrongs of their parents -and in accordance with international human rights, the interests of the child should be our first principle.'

Vincent, a political science student at Baptist University of Hong Kong, agrees. 'I think we should let her study here. His daughter shouldn't be used as a political tool. I know President Mugabe has violated human rights and done many bad things. He has deprived his citizens of the right to be educated, but we shouldn't forget that education is a basic human right. We shouldn't deny it in return.'

Clara Law Ying-tse, campaign manager for Amnesty International, thinks Hong Kong must first trace the source of the money funding Ms Mugabe's education.

'We don't have enough information about exactly where the money comes from, but there are laws against money laundering here,' she says. 'I think Hong Kong must closely monitor the cash flow [that supplies Ms Mugabe's tuition] to make sure it's not blood money.'

Why has one first-year student's admission drawn such international concern?

Her father Robert Mugabe - who once declared that 'only God' could remove him from power - has been blamed for single-handedly destroying his country.

Since taking over 22 years ago (see sidebar), Mr Mugabe has impoverished the country, which suffered inflation officially measured at 231,000,000 per cent in July 2008. He seized the natural resources, gagged the press, ignored the basic needs of his population, and tortured or persecuted his opponents. Zimbabwe suffers one of the world's lowest life expectancies (35 years), is battling a cholera outbreak and HIV/Aids epidemic and continues to pile up debt.

All the same, the mainland and Zimbabwe have a longstanding political and economic relationship. In 2003, Mr Mugabe announced a 'Look East' policy to align itself closer to Asia, and particularly China.

Under former US president George W. Bush, the United States refused to buy from or sell to the country.

To win favour with China, Mr Mugabe has bought hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons, and China has freely supplied aid to Zimbabwe.