From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Africa University safe despite Zimbabwe's woes, officials say
12 Apr 2000 11:20:21
April 12, 2000 News media contact: Linda Green·(615)742-5470·Nashville,
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - Zimbabwe's political unrest has not affected
Africa University, and the United Methodist Church's investment in the
school is safe, according to two denominational officials who recently
returned from visiting the country.
Although Zimbabwe is mired in economic and political problems, it still has
rule of law, said the Rev. Roger Ireson, top staff executive of the United
Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. The tension and battles
over land are not affecting the university, near the city of Mutare, and he
voiced confidence that the school will be safe regardless of the political
Africa University's only connection to the situation "is that we are an
institution located in Zimbabwe," said James Salley, the school's vice
chancellor for development.
"There is business as usual at the university," he said. "There is no
farmland to be taken over. The land we have goes back over 100 years and
belonged to the United Methodist Church of Zimbabwe." The church's annual
conference gave the denomination the 1,546 acres of land to build Africa
University, he noted. "We don't have to question whether someone is going to
come and squat on our land."
Africa University has only been affected in economic terms, through the
inflation and exchange rate changes in Zimbabwe, according to Ireson. The
university is dealing with the challenges of operating with a Z$40- to-US$1
exchange rate, he said.
The upheavals are related to political parties and farmers, Ireson said. The
question of land redistribution has not been satisfactorily resolved since
1980, when Zimbabwe was created following the war for independence from
Britain, he said. Some 4,500 commercial farmers, primarily white, are
reported to own more than 70 percent of the country's most fertile land.
President Robert Mugabe, who is facing the toughest challenge of his
20-year-old rule, has called for the redistribution of white-owed land to
Zimbabwe's black population. He also has said Britain must pay for or buy
back land that he said was stolen from indigenous blacks by the ancestors of
the current white owners.
Earlier this year, Zimbabwe's parliament rejected a draft constitution that
would have given Mugabe the power to take the land without payment.
In March, thousands of blacks claiming to be veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s
liberation war began invading white-owned farms, with Mugabe's support. This
action deepened the country's economic crisis.
United Methodists who are nervous about conditions in Zimbabwe should
understand that what is happening in the country is political, according to
Salley. "There is no university-related land for people to occupy, and no
(university) farms have been occupied. Our land would not be any land that
someone would target. The farms being targeted belong to white commercial
farmers, and we don't have that situation."
Africa University is a private institution of higher education and "we don't
get involved in the politics of the country," Salley said. The country's
situation is "one that is going to have to play itself out, but we won't
figure into that."
"Zimbabwe is one of the most stable places in Africa for a university,"
Ireson said. "We continue to build for the future. This is long term, and
nothing at Africa University is in jeopardy. We are building a future
generation of leaders for a new Africa that hopefully will alleviate these
types of confrontations in the future. It will not be immediate, but the
experiences students have at Africa University will make a difference in the
The United Methodist Church has put many dollars into the country's economy,
Salley noted. More than US$5 million in construction is currently under way
on the campus.
"Every precaution has been taken to assure the administration and staff of
the university as well as the board of trustees that Africa University are
safe and sound in the country of Zimbabwe," he said. The university is
operating on a daily basis and not at a diminished level, he said.
The fears expressed and questions raised about the safety of the university
are the result of "a lack of knowledge of Zimbabwe," he said. What is seen
on the news "is real and is happening, but the issue has been going on for
20 years. The issue is about redistribution of land, and Africa University
does not figure into that."
Salley said the university "has been a good neighbor" in the country and has
not taken sides in the conflict. "We are confident that the property and
buildings are safe regardless of what the political climate is."
# # #
United Methodist News Service
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