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Soldiers Of Misfortune

The Foreign Military Assistance Act, a law that outlaws the overthrow of African governments from within South Africa is being put to the test as 20 men, accused of
being Congolese rebels, battle mercenary allegations in the country’s high court. The 1998 law was responsible for the conviction of Richard Rouget for his part in quelling Ivorian dissent in 2004 and Mark Thatcher for funding an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea the same year.



It could have come straight out of a novel. Twenty men, most of them Congolese asylum seekers, stand accused of plotting to overthrow their head of state, Joseph Kabila, from a base deep in the South African bush.

When news of their arrest broke last year, the headlines flew: “Congolese Crisis Comes Knocking at South Africa’s Door”, “Congo Dissidents Stung By Hawks”. The men appeared at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria with a supportive crowd of countrymen behind them. They denied the charges.

The peculiarities of this case may impact the future of mercenary law in South Africa, says Cerita Joubert, lawyer to three of the accused.

“It’s a very good test case… because the definition of mercenary activities [in the Act] is to actually actively engage in combat… and in all the previous cases in South Africa regarding Foreign Military Assistance there was actually a guilty plea by the accused.”

But there are other concerns regarding the investigation that led to the men’s arrests.

“The whole setting of a trap [by South African Police] makes a very nice test case for how far you [are] allowed to go before crossing that border. Our argument is [that] a line was crossed,” she says.

Thesigan Pillay, lawyer to 14 of the accused agrees.

“[They] deliberately [lured] these people to commit the offense to use them as an example… whoever wants even to think about [planning a coup] in South Africa [will] face the full might of the law. Or it could be that there is complicity from the hierarchies of the South African government who are encouraging this [saying] ‘arrest them, detain them because we have interests in the DRC and we do not want South Africa to be used as a platform for dissent against Kabila.’”

However, a source close to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), which is currently presenting the case against the men from Congo, claims the prosecution is simply following its mandate.

“Any action for the unconstitutional change of a government would obviously result as Foreign Military Assistance… we are trying to get rid of this culture of mercenarism in South Africa.”

Joubert and Pillay also insist that, for their clients, money was the main objective.

“The entire thing wasn’t about a coup d’état, it was an opportunity to make money,” claims Pillay.

The story of the Congo 20, as the group is also known, is a convoluted one. To understand why, it helps to return to the very beginning.

Early last year, the men from Congo are accused of convening in Johannesburg to discuss the fronting of an obscure rebel unit to remove the Kabila regime through ‘conventional warfare’. The group’s leaders emerged as James Kazongo, a naturalized American citizen, and a man who claims to be Kabila’s half-brother, Etienne Kabila. General William Amuri Yakutumba, whose whereabouts are currently unknown, was implicated as the group’s military head.

It was claimed, during the trial, that around 7,000 to 9,000 rebel soldiers were loyal to this dissident organization, Union des Nationaliste pour le Renouveau or the Union of Nationalists for Renewal (UNR), based in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Over a five-month period, beginning in September 2012, key members of the group made contact with men they believed to be sponsors interested in mining concessions once the Kabila regime was toppled.

The ‘sponsors’ were actually elite undercover agents in the South African police known as the Hawks. They caught the Congolese in a sting operation.

New information obtained by FORBES AFRICA points to a very different version of events.

In September 2012, accused number four, Kabuka Lugamba Andrian Kilele met Carlos Nkuka, a Congolese man living in Angola, who claimed to work for an Umkhonto we Sizwe veteran, going by the name of Andries Pienaar, later revealed to be part of the sting operation.

Nkuka convinced Kilele to introduce his friend Etienne Taratibu Kabila, alleged son of former Congolese president, Laurent Kabila, who lived in Cape Town, to his boss. Nkuka and Pienaar said they wanted to go into ‘business’ with Kabila.

A few days after making contact, Kabila traveled to Johannesburg to meet with Nkuka and Pienaar at their request. They met first at a fast food restaurant on Louis Botha Avenue, a major thoroughfare that links downtown Johannesburg to Sandton, the city’s business district.

The men then moved the meeting to Kilele’s house on Nugget Street, in downtown Johannesburg, where Pienaar first brought up the mining proposal.

“[He said] I have my people who always wanted to exploit mining business in your country… among Congolese here, I haven’t found one who has got influence in your country,” a source at the meeting tells FORBES AFRICA.

Nkuka and Pienaar wanted to harness the influence of Kabila’s name to take over key mining operations in the DRC already controlled by major rebel groups and government forces. This was their ‘business’ proposal to Kabila.

Days after Kabila returned to Cape Town, Nkuka and Pienaar met with Kilele in the garden suburb of Norwood at a local restaurant. This time Kilele brought along a friend, Lunula ‘Patrick’ Masikini, accused number two. They were instructed to drive to Pienaar’s house and as they were driving they noticed two cars were trailing them: one blue, one silver. They all pulled up at Pienaar’s front yard.

Masikini and Kilele were led into the dining room where they were questioned about Kabila’s relationship with his alleged half-brother, Joseph. After a long conversation about the Kabila brothers, they were shown photos of gold purchased from a mine in Goma, a city on the northern banks of Lake Kivu, by the driver of the blue car.

The case investigator, Lieutenant Colonel Noel Zeeman, was at this meeting. While undercover, Pienaar told the men from Congo that Zeeman was their ‘boss’ who lived in Europe but came to South Africa often.

A few days later, they reconvened. Pienaar, with Zeeman and Nkuka, informed Kilele and Masikini that Kabila had agreed ‘to do business with them.’

The men returned to Norwood and met with undercover agents James Jansen and Joe Bressler for the first time. Pienaar waited in the car.

For the second time, Kabila traveled to Johannesburg to meet with his ‘business’ partners. But this time he was wary. He sent Kilele to meet with Jansen and Bressler at an address sent to him via SMS. After this meeting, an offer was made.

According to a source, Jansen offered Kabila $30,000 to scout mining locations in the DRC. He also emphasized the need for security at the mines, saying that Kabila needed to be ‘with people carrying guns’. The Hawks asked for images of the mines as well as photos of Kabila’s ‘people’ along with the names of ‘10 to 15 people for training’. The plan was to force President Kabila to ‘a point of negotiation’ for mines under his control.

Kabila was hesitant so the offer was increased to $79,000 in two instalments.

“First they will hand over [to Etienne] $30,000 and $49,000 will be [handed over] once he [brought] people for the training,” claims a source who joined the negotiations.

Kabila did not bite, instead withdrawing completely, suspicious of the Hawks and their interest in his name.

“He said… ‘I am not going to continue with these people because why James [Jansen] asked about my brother Joseph [Kabila]?’… I am [certain] these people must be police or Kabila’s agent.’”

Kabila returned to Cape Town and was not seen again until he handed himself over to police in February 2013.

At this point, Kilele decided to continue with the partnership recruiting some friends, also facing charges, to take over from Kabila. He introduced his friends to Jansen and Bressler in Midrand, at a restaurant suspended above the N1 highway, the road that links Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Jansen talked about the money they could all make, if they took ‘two or three provinces in the DRC’ and ran the mines. Later that night, the men received an offer from the agents that they found hard to refuse – $300,000 – more money than any of them had ever imagined.

“Hearing this amount of money… I said I have to do whatever they want to get the money,” admits a source at that meeting.

Kazongo was central to obtaining the money, claim a number of sources. The alleged leader of the group knew Maskini through his sister in Belgium. At some point, he was preparing an affidavit for Masikini to relocate to the United States, where he has lived for 32 years, but the move never happened.

Kazongo was to play a small role: meet with the agents, posing as ‘President’ of the group,  to collect the money. For his trouble, he was promised $100,000.

The UNR’s alleged military head, General Yakutumba, founder of the Mai Mai Yakutumba rebels in South Kivu, was forced into their plans.

“These guys [wanted] a person who has influence to lead… [and] some photos of soldiers and also Yakutumba’s image because they checked him on the internet… that’s where the idea of Yakutumba came from,” reveals a source.

In January 2013, Kilele met with the general at an undisclosed location just outside Uvira, a town that flanks the northern edge of Lake Tanganyika. For the promise of $20,000, Yakutumba and his soldiers posed for photographs and video with Kilele. This would later be used as proof of the group’s military prowess.

During the same trip, Kilele took photos of mines and brought back gold samples. This, he hoped, was evidence enough for ‘the sponsor’. He handed over the evidence, with Masikini, to Jansen after returning South Africa on January 22, 2013.

Many of the Congolese men implicated in the coup charges claim they were recruited by Kilele and another man, accused number 13, David Bakajika, to attend anti-rhino poaching training. They say they knew nothing about the agreements Kilele made with the agents.

“The training was supposed to last for seven weeks. Upon completion of that training we were supposed to receive a certificate and a lump sum of $2,500 for each trainee. Furthermore, I was told by Kilele that there will be opportunity for employment as security in the farms of South Africa, so I wanted to use my vacation time to get the certificate and the money and go back to DRC,” says a source close to Kilele.

On February 4, 2014, a day before their arrest, 19 of the Congolese accused departed for a fast food restaurant to meet with Jansen and Bressler. Masikini drove Kazongo and Kilele to the restaurant. The other men took public transport. When they got there, they felt something was wrong. A source claims that there were four men accompanying the agents and all of them were carrying pistols.

The men from the DRC were then driven further north on the N1. They didn’t know where they were going. They passed Pretoria and drove for hours into the bush.

The journey ended at a farm in the middle of nowhere.

“It was just a camp with some tents,” says a source on the trip.

The men were given military fatigues, boots and coats. On a flipboard was written ‘Coup d’état’ and ‘questions which needed to be answered’ in both English and French.

They were told to familiarize themselves with the place as they were going to spend seven weeks there, but the stay was cut short.

“[They] pointed a gun at [us] and said ‘no one is allowed to move around,’ says another source.

They felt they were in trouble.

“We knew then that we were with the wrong people, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.”

While at the farm, they met another face they later would see in court, the trainer, ‘Nick’.

“He introduced himself saying he is not a good man as we might think. He is a killer and he [doesn’t] know how many people he has killed in his life and he [doesn’t] trust anyone; only his cousin, who was holding a camera in front of us,” claims a source.

Nick had helped train security contractors in Afghanistan. He told the men from Congo that he had recently returned.

An ‘agitated’ Jansen then appeared with a wooden box containing ‘huge guns’. He instructed them to put on the fatigues, grab a gun and pose for photographs, which were later used against them in court.

At 4:30AM the next morning, the men were summoned from their tents by men in balaclavas. They were told they were going to meet the ‘sponsor’. Instead they met a familiar face with a police identification card who introduced himself as ‘Lieutenant Colonel Noel Graeme Zeeman’.

The men shuffled into a police van and were returned to Pretoria. In the car, a translator with the police confirmed their fate.

“Vous étés sous L’arréstation!” she said according to a source who was in the police van.

The men appeared at Pretoria Magistrate’s court two days later. After a month long battle, they were denied bail.

The Congo 20 last appeared in court in late October. Their lawyers expect the case to conclude early next year.


Climate Explained: How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?




How much climate change is natural? How much is man made?

As someone who has been working on climate change detection and its causes for over 20 years I was both surprised and not surprised that I was asked to write on this topic by The Conversation. For nearly all climate scientists, the case is proven that humans are the overwhelming cause of the long-term changes in the climate that we are observing. And that this case should be closed.

Despite this, climate denialists continue to receive prominence in some media which can lead people into thinking that man-made climate change is still in question. So it’s worth going back over the science to remind ourselves just how much has already been established.

Successive reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – mandated by the United Nations to assess scientific evidence on climate change – have evaluated the causes of climate change. The most recent special report on global warming of 1.5 degrees confirms that the observed changes in global and regional climate over the last 50 or so years are almost entirely due to human influence on the climate system and not due to natural causes.

What is climate change?

First we should perhaps ask what we mean by climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines climate change as:

a change in the state of the climate that can be identified by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer.

The causes of climate change can be any combination of:

  • Internal variability in the climate system, when various components of the climate system – like the atmosphere and ocean – vary on their own to cause fluctuations in climatic conditions, such as temperature or rainfall. These internally-driven changes generally happen over decades or longer; shorter variations such as those related to El Niño fall in the bracket of climate variability, not climate change.
  • Natural external causes such as increases or decreases in volcanic activity or solar radiation. For example, every 11 years or so, the Sun’s magnetic field completely flips and this can cause small fluctuations in global temperature, up to about 0.2 degrees. On longer time scales – tens to hundreds of millions of years – geological processes can drive changes in the climate, due to shifting continents and mountain building.
  • Human influence through greenhouse gases (gases that trap heat in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide and methane), other particles released into the air (which absorb or reflect sunlight such as soot and aerosols) and land-use change (which affects how much sunlight is absorbed on land surfaces and also how much carbon dioxide and methane is absorbed and released by vegetation and soils).

What changes have been detected?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report showed that, on average, the global surface air temperature has risen by 1°C since the beginning of significant industrialisation (which roughly started in the 1850s). And it is increasing at ever faster rates, currently 0.2°C per decade, because the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have themselves been increasing ever faster.

The oceans are warming as well. In fact, about 90% of the extra heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases is being absorbed by the oceans.

A warmer atmosphere and oceans are causing dramatic changes, including steep decreases in Arctic summer sea ice which is profoundly impacting arctic marine ecosystems, increasing sea level rise which is inundating low lying coastal areas such as Pacific island atolls, and an increasing frequency of many climate extremes such as drought and heavy rain, as well as disasters where climate is an important driver, such as wildfire, flooding and landslides.

Multiple lines of evidence, using different methods, show that human influence is the only plausible explanation for the patterns and magnitude of changes that have been detected.

This human influence is largely due to our activities that release greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, as well sunlight absorbing soot. The main sources of these warming gases and particles are fossil fuel burning, cement production, land cover change (especially deforestation) and agriculture.

Weather attribution

Most of us will struggle to pick up slow changes in the climate. We feel climate change largely through how it affects weather from day-to-day, season-to-season and year-to-year.

The weather we experience arises from dynamic processes in the atmosphere, and interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans and the land surface. Human influence on the broader climate system acts on these processes so that the weather today is different in many ways from how it would have been.

One way we can more clearly see climate change is by looking at severe weather events. A branch of climate science, called extreme event or weather attribution, looks at memorable weather events and estimates the extent of human influence on the severity of these events. It uses weather models run with and without measured greenhouse gases to estimate how individual weather events would have been different in a world without climate change.

As of early 2019, nearly 70% of weather events that have been assessed in this way were shown to have had their likelihood and/or magnitude increased by human influence on climate. In a world without global warming, these events would have been less severe. Some 10% of the studies showed a reduction in likelihood, while for the remaining 20% global warming has not had a discernible effect. For example, one study showed that human influence on climate had increased the likelihood of the 2015-2018 drought that afflicted Cape Town in South Africa by a factor of three.

Adapting to a changing climate

Weather extremes underlie many of the hazards that damage society and the natural environment we depend upon. As global warming has progressed, so have the frequency and intensity of these hazards, and the damage they cause.

Minimising the impacts of these hazards, and having mechanisms in place to recover quickly from the impacts, is the aim of climate adaptation, as recently reported by the Global Commission on Adaptation.

As the Commission explains, investing in adaptation makes sense from economic, social and ethical perspectives. And as we know that climate change is caused by humans, society cannot use “lack of evidence” on its cause as an excuse for inaction any more.

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Current Affairs

The Rage And Tears That Tore A Nation



Snapshots of the outrage against foreign nationals and protests against sexual offenders in South Africa in recent weeks, captured by FORBES AFRICA photojournalist Motlabana Monnakgotla.

As the continent’s second-biggest economy, South Africa attracts migrants from the rest of Africa. But mired in its own problems of unemployment and political instability, September saw a serious outbreak of attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals and foreign-owned businesses. And they have been ugly.    

The spark that fueled the raging fire was in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district (CBD).

The altercation caused a riot and the taxi industry brought the CBD to a standstill, blocking intersections. It did not stop there; a week later, about 60 kilometers from the capital in Malvern, a suburb east of the Johannesburg CBD, a hijacked building caught fire, leaving three dead. As emergency services were putting out the fire, the residents took advantage and looted foreign-owned shops and burned car dealerships overnight on Jules Street.

The lootings extended to the CBD and other parts of Johannesburg.

To capture this embarrassing moment in South African history, I visited Katlehong, a township 35 kilometers east of Johannesburg, where the residents blocked roads leading to Sontonga Mall on a mission to loot the mall and the foreign-owned shops therein overnight.

Shop-owners and workers were shocked to wake up to no business.

Mfundo Maljingolo, a worker at Fish And Chips, was among the distressed.

“This thing started last night, people started looting and broke into the mall and did what they wanted to do. I couldn’t go to work today because there’s nothing to do; now, we are not going to get paid. The shop will be losing close to R10,000 ($677) today. It’s messed up,” said Maljingolo.

But South African businesses were affected too.

Among the shops at the mall is Webbers, a clothing and footwear store. Looters could not enter the shop and it was one of the few that escaped the vandalism.

Dineo Nyembe, the store’s manager, said she was in disbelief when she saw people could not enter the mall.

“We got here this morning and the ceiling was wrecked but there was no sign that the shop was entered, everything was just as we left it. Now, we are packing stock back to the warehouse, because we don’t know if they are coming back tonight,” lamented Nyembe, unsure if they would make their daily target or if they would be trading again.

 Across the now-wrecked mall are small businesses that were not as fortunate as Webbers, and it was not only the shop-owners that were affected. 

Emmanuel Nhlane’s home was robbed even as attackers were looting the shop outside.

“They broke into my house, I was threatened with a petrol bomb and I had to stand outside to give them a chance; they took my fridge, bed, cash and my VHS,” said Nhlane.

Nhlane had rented out his yard to foreign nationals to operate a shop. He does not comprehend why his belongings were taken because he doesn’t own a shop. Now, it means that the unemployed Nhlane will not be getting his monthly rental fee of R3,700 ($250).

Far away, the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, was also affected as trucks burned and a driver was killed because of his nationality. This was part of a logistics and transport industry national strike.

Back in Johannesburg, I visited the car dealerships that were a part of the burning spree on Jules Street.

The streets were still ashy and the air still smoky, two days after the unfortunate turn of events.

Muhamed Haffejee, one of the distraught businessmen there, said: “Currently, we are still not trading.” 

Cape Town, in the Western Cape province of South Africa, which hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa from September 4 to 6, was also witness to protests by women and girls from all walks of life outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre, demanding that the leadership take action to end the spate of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.

There were protests also outside Parliament. What set off the nationwide outcry was the shocking rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old film and media student at the University of Cape Town, inside a post office by a 42-year-old employee at the post office.

There was anger against the ghastly crimes and wave of GBV in the country that continues unabated. According to Stats SA, there has been a drastic increase of women-based violence in South Africa; sexual offences are up by 4.6%, from 50,108 in 2018 to 52,420 in 2019.

A week later, on a Friday, Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile and one of the biggest economic hubs, was shut down by hundreds of angry women and members of advocacy groups from across Johannesburg. They congregated by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the cynosure of business, singing and chanting, to demand “a 2% levy on profits of all listed entities to help fund the fight against GBV and femicide”.   

Among the protesters was Cebi Ngqinanbi, holding a placard that read: “I’m not your punching bag.”

“We came here to disrupt Sandton as the heart of Johannesburg’s economic hub. We want to make everyone aware that women and children are being killed every day in South Africa and they [Sandton] continue with business as usual, sitting in their offices with air-conditioners and the stock exchange whilst people on the ground making them rich are dying. That is why we are here, to speak to those that have economic power,” said Ngqinanbi.

She added that if women can be given economic power, they will be able to fend for themselves and won’t fall prey to abusive men, since most women stay in abusive relationships because men are more financially stable.

Amid the chanting and singing of struggle songs, Nobuhle Ajiti addressed the crowd and shared her own haunting experience as a migrant in South Africa and survivor of GBV. She spoke in isiZulu, a South African language.

“I survived a gang rape; I was thrown out of a moving car and stabbed several times. I survived it, but am I going to survive xenophobia that is looming around in South Africa? Will I able to share my xenophobia story like I can share my GBV story?” questioned Ajiti.

She said as migrants, they did not wake up in the morning and decide to come to South Africa, but because of the hardships faced in their home countries, they were forced to come to what they perceived as the city of opportunities. And as a foreign national, she had to deal with both xenophobia and GBV.

“We experience institutionalized xenophobia in hospitals; we are forced to pay huge amounts for consultation. I am raped and I need medical attention and I am told I need to pay R5,000 ($250).

“As a mere migrant, where am I going to get R5,000? I get abused at home and the police officer would ask me where I’m from because of my accent, I sound Zimbabwean. What does my nationality have to do with my husband beating me at home or with the man that just raped me?” she asked.

Women stop traffic while they hold up placards stating their grievences against GBV. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

Addressing the resolute women outside was the JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King who received the memorandum demanding business take their plight seriously, from a civil society group representing over 70 civil society organizations and individuals.

The list of demands include that at all JSE-listed companies contribute to a fund to resource the National Strategy Plan on GBV and femicide, to be launched in November; transport for employees who work night shifts or work after hours; establish workplace mechanisms to provide support to GBV survivors as part of employee wellness, and prevention programs that help make workplaces safe spaces for all women.

Newton-King assured the protestors she would address their demands in seven days. But a lot can happen in seven days. Will there be more crimes in the meantime? How many more will be raped and killed in South Africa by then?

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Quality Higher Education Means More Than Learning How To Work




When people talk about quality education, they’re often referring to the kind of education that gives students the knowledge and skills they need for the job market. But there’s a view that quality education has wider benefits: it develops individuals in ways that help develop society more broadly.

In Zimbabwe, for example, the higher education policy emphasises student employability and the alleviation of labour shortages. But, as my research found, this isn’t happening in practice.

University education needs to do more than produce a graduate who can get a job. It should also give graduates a sense of right and wrong. And it should instil graduates with an appreciation for other people’s development.

Tertiary education should also give students opportunities, choices and a voice when it comes to work safety, job satisfaction, security, growth and dignity. Higher education is a space where they can learn to be critical. It must prepare them for participating in the economy and broader society.

This isn’t happening in Zimbabwe. Graduate unemployment is high and employers and policy makers are blaming this largely on the mismatch between graduate skills and market requirements.

Investigating Zimbabwe’s universities
My research sought to examine how a human development lens could add to what was valued as higher education, and the kind of graduate outcomes produced in Zimbabwe. I investigated 10 of the universities in Zimbabwe (there were 15 at the time of the research). Four were private and six public.

I reviewed policy documents, interviewed representatives of institutions and held discussions with students. Members of Zimbabwe’s higher education quality assurance body and university teaching staff were also included.

I found that in practice, higher education in Zimbabwe was influenced by the country’s socio-political and economic climate. Decisions and appointments of key university administrators in public universities and the minister of higher education were largely political.

In addition, resources were limited and staff turnover was high. Universities just couldn’t finance themselves through tuition fees.

Different players in the higher education system – employers, the government, academics, students and their families – have different ideas about what “quality” means in higher education. The Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education understands quality as meeting set standards and benchmarks that emphasise the graduates’ knowledge and skills.

To some extent, academics and university administrators see quality as teaching and learning that gives students a mixture of skills and values such as social responsibility.

But lecturers must comply with the largely top-down approach to quality. They tend to do whatever will enhance students’ prospects of getting employment in a particular market.

The educators and students I interviewed acknowledged that developing the ability to work and to think critically were both central to higher education. But they admitted that these goals were hard to attain. This was because of the country’s constrained socio-political and economic environment. Academics and students felt that they couldn’t express themselves freely and critical thinking was suppressed.

Stuck on a road to nowhere
The study illustrates how an over-emphasis on creating human capital – skilled and knowledgeable graduates – limits higher education’s potential to foster broader human and social development.

University education should do more, especially in developing countries such as Zimbabwe that face not just economic, but also socio-political challenges. Before building more universities and enrolling more students, authorities and citizens should consider what quality education means in relation to the kind of society they want.

It’s possible to take a broader view of development, quality and the role of higher education. This broader approach – one that appreciates social justice – can equip graduates to address the country’s problems.

The road ahead
Universities can’t change a society on their own. But their teaching and learning practices can make an important difference.

Because quality teaching and learning means different things to different people, people need to talk about it democratically. Institutional and national policies must be informed by broad consultations to identify the knowledge, skills and values they want graduates to have.

University teaching and learning should emphasise freedom of expression and participation so that students can think and act critically beyond university.

Also, academics don’t automatically know how to teach just because they have a PhD. Universities should therefore ensure that academics learn how to teach and communicate their knowledge. Curriculum design, student assessment and feedback, as well as training of lecturers should all support this goal of human development.

When universities see quality in terms of human development, their role becomes more than production of workers in an economy. It gives them a mandate to nurture ethically responsible graduates. These more rounded graduates are better equipped to imagine an alternative future in pursuit of a better society, economically, politically and socially.

Patience Mukwambo: Researcher, University of the Free State

The Conversation

The Conversation

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