With so much prestige attached to being a student at the University of Zambia (UNZA) and with students priding themselves to be the cream of the nation, one would expect everything UNZA related to be well ordered and uniform but the truth is everyone is their own person.
UNZA like any other community has a spectrum of people each with their distinct set of behaviours, goals and priorities. Some of these differences exist even among members of a clique.
Perhaps one of is most evident or outright displays of variety among students is how students spending their meal allowance.
Every student on government bursary gets a sum of about K 2,000 every term and there are different ways this money is used by students. Also different and interesting are the stories of how students actually uses this allowance. From something as wild as spending it all in a brothel in one memorable weekend to something as mundane as saving the money for other uses.
With that being said, I decided to explore for myself and find out just how students use this payment meant to be spent on food stuffs in order to get themselves through a term full of twist and turns.
“I’m business minded so the first thing I try to do with the money is invest it so it can bring considerable returns”, Mukuka Chama said.
Chama, a third year student in the School of Education uses 50 percent of his meal allowance to phones. He explained that he has an uncle who owns an electronic device shop in the city centre and gets these gadgets at a reduced price, offering them to students at a slightly higher price in order to make a profit.
“I take my business seriously because its either I sink or swim for me so all transactions are cash based, no credit!” he said with a brash smile.
He pointed out that he uses the remainder of the money to buy food stuffs with his roommate and the rest is pocket money to be spent on alcohol or a meal at the mall right on campus.
Trade seems to be a popular way of spending this money, there all sorts of small time student businesses thriving on the UNZA great East road main campus including selling clothing, footwear , offering photocopying and printing services among others.
Martha Silavwe, a third year student in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences engages in miscellaneous business activities using her meal allowance. She is some sort of a jack of all trades selling synthetic hair, make up and jewellery and says she manages to make a good profit at the end of the day.
“I’m considerate of my clients’ situation as money is not easy to come by as a student and so I take my payments in instalments over a two or three month period”, she declared.
Silavwe described how she is in a partnership with her room-mate with whom she splits the returns halfway. She added that she and her friend order the products from abroad using the government provided payment and the trouble pays off as fellow students appreciate and are ready to pay for good quality.
Then there are those students who are not gifted with a business acumen or simply feel the immensity of responsibility and use the grant on basics like food and acquiring study materials.
Macdonald Mwale who is a first year student at the university said he thinks of nothing else but ensuring that he stocks up enough food stuffs for the term.
“I first buy enough beans and kapenta to last me the whole term”, Mwale said. “I then buy a variety of meat products from an affordable butchery.”
He further explained that a good part of the meal allowance goes to payment of the room he is renting as the school is a facing an accommodation crisis with thousands of students unaccommodated.
Even as stories are of students using the allowance visiting nightclubs and spending all their money on alcohol are rife, there are those who are noble enough to use their allowance to as help out their families at home.
“I don’t live on campus and this enables me to see the everyday struggles my guardians encounter to send me to school”, Kaiwala Kaiwala said. “I use the money to help out at wherever I can.”
Kaiwala, a second year student in the School of Natural Sciences observed that though friends spend the allowance on their personal needs, she never feels she is missing out on anything because showing appreciation to her parents for all their efforts is more fulfilling.
Despite having several different uses for the allowance, one thing that all students agree on is that the money is never adequate. This is because there has not been a proportional increase in the allowance whenever the value of the currency has plummeted.
“The current allowance given to students is K 2,000 a term and the last increment was in 2008 when the country’s economy was relatively doing better than today”, Kaiwala added.
Over the past few years, students have challenged government to consider increasing the amount to suit the current economic climate and to make for a more manageable stay on campus for students. And with each passing term these calls are increasingly growing louder.