THE long drawn out strike by National University of Lesotho (NUL) students over delayed allowances by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) yesterday seemed to be abating after some students were given the stipend.
NUL Student Representative Council (SRC) Secretary-General Thato Ponya last night told the Lesotho Times some students had received their allowances after several meetings between the university’s management and NMDS officials.
“As things stand, we have been promised all the allowances will be paid up by Friday. Some students have already received their allowances this evening,” Mr Ponya said, adding they would only resume classes next Monday if all allowances “were paid by tomorrow (today) as promised”.
He said they were also lobbying for the inclusion of 200 first-year students in the list of NUL students sponsored by the secretariat.
“If the government doesn’t resolve this issue by next Wednesday, we will suspend classes again,” said Mr Ponya.
He said three people were injured in skirmishes between the police and the students that brought the institution to a standstill. The students had planned to protest at the NMDS offices in Maseru on Monday over the delayed allowances but were stopped in their tracks by the police. Mr Ponya said they had informed the NUL Vice-Chancellor’s office students would not attend classes until their allowances were paid 24 hours before the protest as stipulated by the university by-laws.
The SRC had hired eight buses to ferry the students to Maseru. However, the police turned the buses back as they were approaching the city centre arguing the planned protest was illegal since the students had not sought permission.
After returning to the campus, the animated students continued with their protests outside the institution’s entrance by throwing stones on the road and burning tyres.
On Tuesday, the students decided to walk to the NMDS offices and were again intercepted by the police who ordered them to return to the university.
“As we were travelling from Roma to the capital city, we met by heavily-armed police officers at St Michaels who ordered us to return to Roma,” Mr Ponya said on Tuesday.
“We were shocked when the police told us they had been instructed to stop crime by ordering us to return to Roma. When we refused, they started attacking us, injuring students.”
SRC President Mojapela Tlhabeli also accused the police of “brutally assaulting” students.
“It is true the police were looking for students at their homes and brutally assaulting them. I can only confirm they attacked those living off campus and am not sure if they made way into the campus for those living inside,” he said.
However, police spokesperson Superintendent Clifford Molefe denied allegations they brutally assaulted the students.
“It is not true that we tortured or shot at the students. What happened is that after 30 minutes of urging the students to return to Roma, the police used smoke on them which is not intoxicating and they ran from back to Roma,” Superintendent Molefe said.
He said during the melee, a female student fell down and was rushed by the police to Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital. Superintendent Molefe said the student was treated as an outpatient, with the doctors telling the police the student was a known epilepsy patient. He added that the female student was driven back to Roma by the police.
“We also instructed the students who barricaded the university’s entrance to remove the stones. According to the 2010 Meetings and Processions Act, the students’ planned protest was illegal and that is why we intervened. They ought to have asked for permission seven days prior to the protest or 48 hours before if they felt this was an urgent matter,” said Superintendent Molefe.
“However, even if they did, that wasn’t going to automatically get them a permit as it is the discretion of the police to determine the urgency.
“Had they followed this route, we wouldn’t have problems with them, this is a free country and people are allowed to exercise their constitutional right of freedom of movement.”
Meanwhile, Development Planning Minister Mokoto Hloaele has said the government does not have enough money to pay out all the tertiary students NMDS allowances.
In his remarks on Lesotho Television this past week, Mr Hloaele said there had been a shortfall for some years, forcing the government to reduce the number of sponsored students.
“The number of higher learning institutions’ students seeking sponsorship from the NMDS drastically increased over the years,” Mr Hloaele said.
“The government does not have enough money to sponsor every Mosotho seeking to advance their educational careers at the higher learning institutions.”
He said due to the lack of funding, the NMDS had to inform each tertiary institution on the number of students eligible for sponsorship.
“After this, each institution sends the NMDS a list of admitted students, and after being scrutinised by the council the lists are submitted to the Development Planning minister.
“Once the minister accepts this recommendation, the secretariat makes an announcement informing students to report to the NMDS offices and sign contracts.
“When the time for signing contracts ends, the secretariat goes through the list and if any gaps need to be filled, they will call those on the waiting lists to come and sign contracts.”
He added: “Therefore, the number of students who are not going to be sponsored by the secretariat is not yet known, so are the issues of students’ allowances which will be announced publicly by the NMDS at a later stage.”
Meanwhile, NUL this week issued a statement distancing the university’s management from the protests.
“The public should know that the University has nothing to do with the students’ efforts to visit NMDS . . . We have made it clear to the SRC that should any lectures be disrupted by students, the SRC will be held responsible,” read part of the statement.
“The public must also appreciate that the unreasonably long drawn processes at NMDS of settling students’ allowances is inflicting suffering to students. We regret that this delay goes way beyond standard practice and the protocol currently in place. We urge NMDS to expedite its processes and to fulfill its contractual obligations with students for the sake of a conducive learning environment.”