Thirteen academics who were sacked for going on strike three years ago are battling to be reinstated and have lodged a US$46 million claim for unfair dismissal against their former employer, Zimbabwe’s Solusi University.

The lecturers’ lawyer, Jacob Francis Mudenda, said his clients had taken the industrial action to press for better pay and working conditions. Mudenda said the labour court had since ruled in favour of his clients but the Seventh Day Adventist-run university last month said it would appeal against the judgment.

The judgment, seen by this reporter, said the university had flouted Zimbabwe’s labour laws. "The very tenets of natural justice were flagrantly breached by the applicants. All they did defies what the Labour Act and the principles of fairness, equity and justice stand for," part of the judgment by Labour Court judge Mercy Moya-Matshanga reads.

Mudenda said the university had argued that the lecturer strike was illegal but his clients say they gave a two-week notice to strike, as required by law. Several messages left for Josphat Tshuma, the lawyer representing Solusi University and President of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, were not answered.

Each year from 2004, lecturers at state-run and private institutions of higher learning in Zimbabwe embarked on long strikes against poor pay, as world record inflation that at one point hit 231 million percent made their salaries worthless. Last year, all academics at state universities downed tools for the whole year.

To escape the crippling inflation, the government in February dumped the Zimbabwe dollar as legal tender and switched to the use of multi-currencies – the United States Dollar, the South African Rand and the Botswana Pula – a move that reduced inflation to less than 2%.

The currency changeover also saw the 13 Solusi University lecturers pegging the amount for damages for their sacking at US$46 million.

Meanwhile, three university students were badly injured earlier this month when they were arrested and tortured by state agents. Human rights abuses under Zimbabwe’ power-sharing government are on the increase, according to students’ unions.

The Zimbabwe National Students Union Zinasu said a National University of Science and Technology student Joram Chikwadze sustained a broken arm while being tortured and was hospitalised. Chikwadze had been arrested in court while following a corruption case against the university’s chief financial officer who is accused of embezzling university funds. He had been following the case to get information on how students’ funds had been plundered.

Great Zimbabwe University student representative council president Zivanai Muzorodzi and fellow student Godfrey Kurauone suffered injuries when state agents placed them under house arrest and tortured them for organising student elections. The students said they were accused of backing the political rivals of President Robert Mugabe.

Muzorodzi told  he had not sought medical attention because he feared the state agents would act against any medical facility that treated him.

Zinasu coordinator Mfundo Mlilo said last week that students continued to be victimised despite the formation of an inclusive government headed by Mugabe and long-time opponent Morgan Tsvangirai, the Movement for Democratic Change leader who is now Prime Minister.

Mlilo said that last year, 367 cases of rights abuses were recorded while this year there had been more than 400 cases. While previously it was only state agents who assaulted students, a worrying new trend was emerging of university security personnel joining in the abuse. He blamed the violence against students on what he termed "residual elements" in Mugabe’s ZANU-PF who are opposed to power-sharing.

Last weekend, ZANU-PF passed a resolution endorsing Mugabe (85), who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from British colonial rule in 1980, to remain as the party’s leader for the next five years – a development that will see him contesting 2013 presidential elections.

Analysts say Mugabe wants to die in office to avoid being tried at The Hague for crimes against humanity, following years of oppressive rule and violence against political opponents that resulted in thousands of people being murdered. The power-sharing government was agreed after Tsvangirai pulled out of last year’s presidential poll, citing the murder of more than 500 of his supporters by ZANU-PF members and state agents.