The intense battle between the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the student community of the University of Botswana (UB) has finally reached a climax.
Students at Botswana’s ‘highest institution of learning’ are officially on strike.
Early Friday morning saw students being chased out of classes by angry mobs who wanted them to join the strike as they claimed to be fighting for everyone’s rights.
Media cars had stones thrown at them, while construction workers neglected their duties and stood a safe distance from the students who were blocking the roads.
As some of the students waved placards, others were calling for the resignation of the Minister of Education and Skills Development, Jacob Nkate. Some of the placards read: ‘the students’ right should be respected as they need a healthy and stable environment in order to study’.
The students allegedly went on a frenzy when the ministry announced that it wouldn’t change or take any corrective action against the recent mix-up in the disbursement of personal allowances.
Information passed to the Sunday Standard is that students who live off-campus are supposed to be given a personal allowance of P1, 900 per month, yet some are being given an allowance of P150, others P770 and with still others getting P1, 200.
The explanation given to the Students Representative Council (SRC) by MoE was that they were using information they received from students during the past semester and it was already too late for them to do anything about the situation.
Allegations by the student body were that the ministry was working on this as a strategy to lure students into living on campus.
The SRC says a student living off camp costs the ministry more money than one living on campus.
Molatedi Kgotla, SRC Vice President, said that when school started, the sponsor had alerted the students on his/her right to flexibility when it came to issues of accommodation.
“How do they expect an off-campus student to live on a meager salary of p770, or p150 for a whole term when the current inflation prices, especially on food, have plummeted? What do they pay rent with? How do they come to school without taxi fare? Students are angry because for most of them this money is a loan not a grant,” said Kgotla
The build up to the strike had started when the ministry and the SRC failed to reach an agreement to amend the new policies instilled on UB by the sponsor.
The ministry made a decision to halt sponsoring students for retaking courses and was apparently not willing to discuss amending the issue.
The students held countless meetings where they decided against striking, preferring instead to take the ministry to court.
The Lobatse High Court received two urgent applications of which one was withdrawn.
Kgotla says upon learning that Nkate would not address the students’ problems, they filed another application, which was later dismissed by High Court Judge, Justice Walia, as not being urgent.
“We were now helpless because more and more students are crying out for help,” said Kgotla. “And when we told the students the bad news, they didn’t take it well and ended up calling for a strike. Now the whole school is on strike and it is up to the ministry to correct their mistakes or face the wrath of the students.”