Africa University continues work despite country’s woes
June 19, 2006
Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa
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
|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
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
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
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.
to a June 13 report on AllAfrica.com, 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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.