Lecturers alarmed about upcoming physical exercise ‘boot camp’

10 Sep 2018

Beginning tomorrow, lecturers from vocational training centres and brigades will attend a four-week retreat that some fear is actually an army-style boot camp.

What reinforces such fear is that it will be facilitated by a retired army colonel far away from too many prying eyes (Matsiloje), participant-lecturers have to undergo medical examination and bring sportswear, being tracksuits and a pair of trainers. A savingram, which was written by the Director of Skills Development in the Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development, Motlalepula Mabisi, says that the purpose of the medical examination is “to enable facilitators to determine the extent and limit of physical exercise that officers are to engage in.”

A conscript for the exercise, which will end on October 5, says that the requirements being made of them clearly show that they are going to be put through some military-type boot camp with lots of physical exercise.

“Why physical exercise?” wonders the worried conscript.

Another source says that during a meeting with principals, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development, Pearl Ramoroka, did actually use the term “boot camp.” Mabisi’s savingram has expertly massaged the language to the more agreeable “life skills and management retreat”, which this source says is mere linguistic trickery that was motivated by realisation that “boot camp” caused deep unease among Ramoroka’s audience.

Each institution is supposed to nominate nine officers, including the principal, for whom attendance is mandatory. Deputy principals will stay behind in order to run institutions for the period of the retreat. Excluded for now are lecturers of soft skills and construction trades as they are expected to start lecturing under new “retooling” programmes. While the government will provide official transport, food and accommodation, some participants have expressed dismay that it is not doing likewise with other accommodations. The savingram says that participants should bring their own bedding (“which is mattress, blankets and pillows”) as well as utensils being “plates, cups etc”. That requirement basically means that those without spare bedding and utensils will have to buy them ahead of this retreat - and that is supposing that they have the money to do so. Notification about the retreat came well after payday, meaning that participants haven’t budgeted for it. Lecturers are as concerned that the objectives of the retreat have never been fully explained to them.

“We still don’t know how we are going to benefit from this retreat,” says one.

Given who was president in the last 10 years, boot camps almost became en vogue in the previous administration. Through the now discontinued Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES), unemployed youth were basically tricked into enrolling for a scheme through which they underwent military-like physical exercises during which some were injured at one point. Blowing wide open the myth that soldiers are an extraordinarily disciplined lot, some army instructors at the Pandamatenga Training Camp are said to have taken sexual advantage of female YES participants. Considering the power relations, the young women were in no position to rebuff the instructors’ amorous advances and in that regard, the resulting sexual relations were certainly not consensual. Eschewing the guidance and counselling intervention ordinarily used in schools, the Ministry of Basic Education deployed a contingent of soldiers to Goodhope Senior Secondary School last year to deal with the lawlessness of out-of-control students within a boot camp setting.