The University of Botswana is reportedly tottering on the brink of collapse following a fall out between the UB administration and expatriate lecturers, fuelled by government’s recent decision to deny expatriate lecturers exemption from the long and onerous process of applying for work and residence permits.
While government has not forwarded any reasons for the unprecedented u-turn, word abounds that the decision was taken because a number of UB lecturers are considered to be a security threat.
Earlier this year, the government deported Zimbabwean national Caesar Zvayi, a media studies lecturer who has admitted to being Robert Mugabe’s chief propagandist, and was also blacklisted by the European Union.
Zvayi, a former editor of the Zimbabwean government mouthpiece, the Herald, was deported from the country after protestation from UB students. Zvayi was a rabid ZANU-PF loyalist, and his stay in Botswana did not sit well with the country’s democratic credentials.
In late August, the government of Botswana halted the system whereby expatriate lecturers, professors and other UB staff were exempted from the rigorous process of applying for work and residence permits, a decision which reportedly created animosity between the university, expatriate staff and government. Indications are that subsequent efforts by the university management to try and get government to reverse the controversial decision fell on deaf ears.
“What will happen is that all foreign staff will have to apply for work permits, an extensive process which involves the payment of fees, police clearance, re-submission of documents, and medical examinations. This will cost the university a lot of money,” read an anonymous e-mail sent to The Sunday Standard by one of the expatriate lecturers.
This new development irked expatriate university lecturers, especially as it was widely viewed as an anomaly that is not practiced anywhere else in the world.
“There is no university in the world that can operate without skilled expatriate personnel, and courtesies like exemptions are just part of the normal attractions through which we manage to retain skilled personnel, lest they seek greener pastures elsewhere where they are more appreciated,” said a UB insider in an interview with The Sunday Standard last week.
Worse still, it has emerged that the latest developments are only applicable to the UB and not to other tertiary institutions in Botswana, including the Botswana International University of Science and Technology and Limkokwing.
This has exacerbated perceptions that the recent developments are targeted efforts by the Botswana government to frustrate educational development at the UB, especially as the UB student and staff are widely perceived to be pro-opposition. Word also abounds that the UB has taken secondary position to the new BIUST, which is now considered to be government’s vintage project.
The exemption of other universities, especially Limkokwing, is widely regarded as a spit in the face of UB personnel, who have all along been viewing their counterparts in the Malaysian university with contempt, especially after numerous scandals and embarrassments that arose after immigration and security agents rounded up many lecturers from the university who were allegedly caught working without work and residence permits.
“We have all along been operating strictly according to the rules. Why should we be victimized, while others who have not been honest with government are left to do as they please?” asked a member of the UB staff union.
It has also emerged that UB management had been pleading with government to reverse the decision, and they only notified the expatriate lecturers in a meeting held in late November, two months after the August decision.
At the heated meeting, at which the Director of Human Resources and two other officers from the Vice Chancellor’s office were present, one of the officers is said to have blurted out something to the effect that “we want to keep most of you”, which fuelled perceptions that the recent developments at the UB were actually a witch hunt meant to purge some lecturers and professors who are viewed to be a security threat to the country.
But the wider implications are much worse. Nearly every expatriate professor is reportedly looking for another job.
“On a professional level, this is a slap in the face. UB depends on us. There were about 200 professors at the meeting. It is really difficult to recruit professors. There are few qualified Batswana, and, without us, many programs, such as engineering, statistics, chemistry and physics, will become unsustainable immediately” read the e-mail.
The UB has of late been losing expatriate lecturers to South African universities, and indications are that the recent developments will unleash an unprecedented exodus from the UB, which, according to UB insiders, just might cripple operations at the university.