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Zimbabwe remains good place to live, speakers say

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Robert Armstrong
Sept. 27, 2006

By Linda Green*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — Though beset with economic problems, Zimbabwe is still “a very pleasant place to live,” say United Methodists working with Africa University there.

Because of the country’s economic condition, officials with the United Methodist-related school are often questioned about operating in the country and about how and why the university continues its mission there. Zimbabwe has been described as a place of desolation and strife, but people who live there disagree with that image.

“Certainly the economy is in shambles. There is no question about that,” Bob Armstrong told the Africa University Advisory Development Committee during its Sept. 23 meeting in Nashville. “The thing that you do find is that it still is a very pleasant to live.”

Armstrong said someone from the United States viewing the country from a Western perspective might not view the quality of life favorably. “There are no security problems any greater than any place else. The problem is an internal struggle that will have to be worked out by Zimbabwe for Zimbabwe,” he said.

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A UMNS photo by Linda Green

The Jarvis Brothers sing in concert at Africa University’s Richard Reeves Legacy Society Dinner.
He referred to the country’s 1,300 percent inflation rate, which makes the cost of living expensive for citizens, and noted that international costs are the same as they have been for a long time, he added.

Armstrong, a native of Western Pennsylvania, has worked and resided in Zimbabwe since 1991 as an employee of the U.S. Agency for International Development. He became a faculty member at Africa University in 1996 and helped establish the school’s agricultural business department. He and his wife, Sandy, have since retired and still live in Mutare, and they will rejoin the university faculty in January.

They and other Zimbabweans provided the committee with glimpses of life in the sub-Saharan country.

“It is a beautiful place to live,” Armstrong said. “...We thoroughly enjoy it. We could live practically anywhere we want it, but we choose to spend half of our time in Zimbabwe, so we think it is fine.”

Armstrong described Africa University as “a role model for what potential education could be, and it can offer a great example as (to) what can be done to do educational training in Africa. It is an institution that should be continued and perpetuated.”

His esteem for the university stems from a “love (of) Zimbabwe and Africa and helping students. I believe quite frankly that the educated of the world have an obligation to those who are not educated, and Africa University gives me a nice medium in which to do that kind of work.”

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Rukudzo Murapa
The development committee, established in 1993, works with the Africa University Development Office in Nashville and agencies of the United Methodist Church to raise money for the school’s capital, endowment and operational needs.

University ‘untouched’

Committee member Grace Muradzikwa, chief executive of NicozDiamond in Harare, Zimbabwe, said Zimbabweans “appreciate the Africa University miracle. It is unarguably one of the finest universities in Zimbabwe at the moment,” she said. “With all that is happening in Zimbabwe ... Africa University remains very much untouched.”

She told her fellow committee members that she participates in business throughout Africa and is “always happy to get back home.”

“Zimbabwe still remains one of the best places to live despite the levels of inflation,” she said. “It is a very safe place. It has warm people with very warm hearts.” She added that the “infrastructure is still very good.” “With that in mind, I do not know if there could have been a better place to locate Africa University,” she said.

University Vice Chancellor Rukudzo Murapa said student enrollment is being kept at a little more than 1,200, and student housing remains a challenge.

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A UMNS photo by Linda Green

Grace Muradzikwa, chief executive of NicozDiamond in Harare, Zimbabwe, tells the Africa University Advisory Development Committee about life in Zimbabwe.
“Because of the current prevailing macroeconomic environment and the runaway inflation ... which is the highest in the world, and the extremely controlled exchange rate, it has become extremely costly to put up new buildings,” Murapa said. “We are sort of at a standstill with respect to that.” The school has 1,229 students from 25 countries, including Benin, Mali and South Africa.

Murapa noted that the university has kept faculty and staff turnover at a minimum, unlike other academic institutions in the country.

In his report to the committee, James Salley, associate vice chancellor of institutional advancement, said the university is “managing by the grace of God.” The university has “to do a juggling act” to maintain all of its operations, and it “continues to operate without interference from the government,” he said.

In other actions, the committee:

  • Heard about a campaign to build housing for married students.
  • Learned of a Senior Servants program opening in the Faculty of Management and Administration.
  • Received an update on the clinical trials for an AIDS vaccine by St. Jude Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., and its approval by the Zimbabwean government.
  • Learned of proposed plans by the university’s U.S. alumni association for special projects such as a soccer game to benefit Africa University.
  • Learned of an Oct. 9-13 celebration at the school in honor of Dag Hammarskj÷ld (pronounced HAM-mar-shold), who assisted emerging nations in Asia and Africa as the former secretary general of the United Nations, before dying in a 1961 plane crash in Zambia (formally Northern Rhodesia).
  • Learned about the United Methodist Foundation from its director, Byrd Bonner.

Before the committee meeting, the Africa University Development Office hosted the Sixth Annual Richard E. “Dick” Reeves Legacy Society Recognition Dinner. The dinner is held in memory of a key supporter of the school who died in 1999, and the legacy society was created in 2001 to recognize, honor and thank those who, like the late United Methodist layman, reach beyond their own lives to have an impact on future generations at Africa University. The 2006 society honorees included four people who received posthumous recognition, six who were honored for deferred gifts to the university, five for contributing to the general endowment and two for endowing scholarships.

The Jarvis Brothers, a singing group from Orangeburg, S.C., performed a concert for Africa University’s friends and supporters at the Sept. 22 dinner.

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

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

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Resources

Africa University

Africa University Development Office

Africa University Fund

Country profile: Zimbabwe