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Church leader: Africa University will survive


Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, is fulfilling its educational mission despite political and economic strife in the southern African nation. The United Methodist-related school's status was reviewed during the annual meeting of Black Methodists for Church Renewal. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

By John Coleman*

April 4, 2007 | CLEVELAND (UMNS)

"Government leaders, presidents and dictators come and go, but institutions of higher learning remain."

Such was the assurance offered by Africa University's director of institutional advancement to more than 500 members of Black Methodists for Church Renewal during the U.S. group's annual meeting.

James Salley

In a March 23 report to the church's African-American caucus, James Salley said the United Methodist university, located in Old Mutare, Zimbabwe, will survive the storm of political and economic turmoil gripping the southern African country under the repressive regime of President Robert Mugabe.

In recent weeks, the government reportedly has ordered a wave of arrests, detentions, beatings, torture of citizens and other violations of human rights.

Zimbabweans are struggling to survive widespread unemployment, poverty and an inflation rate reported at more than 1,700 percent. Tensions have risen sharply in recent weeks after police arrested and allegedly beat Morgan Tsvangirai and other activists of the Movement for Democratic Change.

Meanwhile, the 83-year-old Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980, resists calls for political reforms and change, according to international reports. Mugabe's ruling Zanu (PF) party formally endorsed him March 30 as its candidate for presidential elections in 2008, potentially extending his leadership into a third decade.

"We have to be careful that we are not misled when we read the news we get here," said Bishop Ernest Lyght, leader of the West Virginia Area and president of the Africa University Development Committee.

Established in 1993, the committee works with the Africa University Development Office in Nashville, Tenn., and agencies of The United Methodist Church to raise money for the school's capital, endowment and operational needs.

Fulfilling its mission

In spite of severe economic conditions and hyperinflation, the university is still functioning as a university should, according to Lyght.

"It is providing quality education, housing, food and other needs to students, faculty and administrators, while using creative ways to make ends meet," he said.

The institution is teaching students new processes for farming and the "appropriate utilization of resources," while also benefiting from its special license to buy and store fuel from outside of Zimbabwe because the country is suffering from severe fuel shortages.

Despite high joblessness throughout the country, Africa University is a major source of local employment, and its buses are often full, transporting workers and students between the campus and the nearby city of Mutare.

The U.S. Agency for International Development is "still providing significant dollars for building construction at Africa University," even though the U.S. government has imposed economic sanctions against the Mugabe regime, Lyght said.


Bishop Ernest Lyght

Balanced budget

Salley reported a balanced budget with a clean audit, no debt and an endowment fund of about $41 million. "This is your Africa University today," he proclaimed to the caucus.

"We are 15 years old this month," Salley said, "and now we have 23 African countries represented among the 1,298-member student body, 32 buildings on campus including student residences and staff and faculty housing, and 119 faculty and staff from 14 countries."

The university operates largely without interference from the government because the people and government leaders are proud of Africa University, Lyght said.

"(Africa University) is a bright star in a country that still emphasizes education and where the literacy rate is very high."
-Bishop Ernest Lyght
"It is a bright star in a country that still emphasizes education and where the literacy rate is very high."

The bishop cited the university's innovative, 4-year-old Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance as an important resource for the entire continent of Africa. "It will play a significant role in helping men and women become capable leaders in their various countries - leaders who can tackle tough issues and resolve conflicts," he said.

Lyght wants the current $40 million endowment raised to $100 million. "This university will not become self-sufficient in the near future because it's not a tuition-driven school," he explained. "It is scholarship-driven, and that means reliance on its endowment.

"It will continue to need the help of The United Methodist Church," he added. "We have to keep emphasizing that. It's a critical investment in our future."

*Coleman is director of communications for the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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