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Africa University continues work despite country’s woes

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Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa
June 19, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*

While Zimbabwe grapples with hyperinflation and other problems, the United Methodist-related university there is holding its own and continuing its work of educating students from around Africa, according to a school official.

“Africa University is thriving,” said Andra Stevens, director of public information. “We have never missed a meal, the lights are on most of the time, and our water situation is improving thanks to investment in a new reservoir on the campus.”

As with other institutions in Zimbabwe, Africa University is challenged by the difficulties of planning and managing in an environment characterized by run-away inflation, currency fluctuations and crisis-level unemployment. The inflation rate is 1,200 percent, making $1 in U.S. currency equal to Z$102,000. That means a roll of toilet paper costs more than $Z145,750 or, in U.S. money, around 69 cents.

International media report the country’s unemployment rate has reached 85 percent, and that 90 percent of the people live in extreme poverty. Food reserves are being rapidly depleted, and more than 4 million people are hungry. Thousands of people are dying from HIV/AIDS and malnutrition each month. The life expectancy in Zimbabwe is 39 years.

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A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose

Despite Zimbabwe's struggling economy, Africa University is thriving, says Andra Stevens, director of public information.

Agriculture, a primary source of foreign income for the sub-Saharan country, has been particularly hard hit. Basic consumer items are in short supply, and the price of fuel is beyond the reach of many.

Leaders with the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe and the Roman Catholic bishops say the church has a key role in tackling the country’s social and economic crises. Some church leaders have openly criticized the country’s leader, Robert Mugabe, for refusing to step down as the economic crisis deepens. Mugabe has asked for dialogue with those church leaders critical of his administration.

In a recent interview, Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa, leader of the Zimbabwe United Methodist Church, said the challenge for the African church is in finding holistic approaches to evangelism to assist in addressing the social and material needs people face. He said the United Methodist Church in America must be aware that the church in Zimbabwe is filled with opportunities for growth that are tempered by a scarcity of resources.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief, the Board of Global Ministries and the Women’s Division have missionaries and other personnel in the country providing humanitarian relief and other assistance.

True to mission

The beauty and blessing of Africa University is that the people who call themselves United Methodist have remained faithful to the mission and ministry that they started in Mutare, Zimbabwe, Stevens said.

“They committed to building an institution that is relevant, fiscally sound and sustainable, one that would have a profoundly positive impact on African nations, and that work continues,” she added.

According to a June 13 report on, Mugabe blames economic woes on sanctions imposed by the European Union — and prompted by Britain — in retaliation for his land reform policies, which transferred white-owned farms to landless Zimbabweans.

Before 2005, an estimated 200,000 people were internally displaced as a result of the farm invasions, a situation that was worsened by the government’s urban cleanup campaign to clear illegally built vending sites and homes. Nearly 2.4 million people were indirectly affected, while 700,000 people were displaced.

Stevens said the university, in light of the constant increases in the cost of goods and services, does all it can to mitigate the hardships students and staff face. The university periodically adjusts salaries to keep experienced faculty and provides them with housing and subsidized daily transportation. The staff is allowed to buy commodities, milk, eggs, chicken and meat at cost from the school’s farm.

For students, the university has held tuition at US$5,200 to $5,400 for the past five years, but students are paying more for food on campus, Stevens said. The changing value of the Zimbabwean dollar to the U.S. dollar causes the institution to make adjustments in fees for students, so the school applies a “concessionary rate rather than the actual market exchange rate” in order to keep learning accessible to students from myriad backgrounds.

“We’re proactive in our friend- and fund-raising in order to secure additional resources with which to assist needy students. The university operates the ?Toothpaste Club,’ through which students work for pay and receive assistance with toiletries, etc.”

Scholarships and financial aid grants keep student enrollment up, she said.

But the government’s difficulty in maintaining infrastructure, communications and utilities has meant additional costs for the university because regular power outages have necessitated the purchase of generators and devices to protect equipment, she said.

Ways to respond

One way the church can respond is “to pray without ceasing for Africa University, for the United Methodist Church in Africa and the people of Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa,” Stevens said. The need for this university on the continent is “even more critical” than when it was founded, she said.

“From this institution is emerging a new, proactive, principled leadership for this continent. Our graduates are spread out from Angola to Zimbabwe, across sub-Saharan Africa as teachers, pastors, counselors, development workers, agriculturalists, entrepreneurs and peacemakers. They are moving into leadership roles in various institutions, in government.”

University officials encourage United Methodists across the country to:

  • Urge local churches to pay 100 percent of their apportionments.
  • Endow scholarships to enable someone who would not otherwise be able to grow to their full potential to get an education for life.
  • Tell the university’s story across the church and world to increase partnerships.
  • “Visit to see and experience for yourself what we consider to be the most exciting ministry of our church in this century.”

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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