LEROTHOLI Polytechnic students resume classes on Tuesday next week after the government-owned college was shut down indefinitely on 26 August 2014 following the death of two students — allegedly during a ritual which is part of the institution’s notorious culture.
Four students — Abiel Mokete (19), Refiloe Mohale (21), Moloi Mokoanyane (20) and Tseko Sebata (23) — have since been charged for the death of first-year learners, Motlatsi Matete (19) and Tokelo Masiu (22), whose bodies were found along the Mohokare River in July this year, allegedly after being subjected to the initiation.
In this interview, the college’s Registrar who also happens to be the newly appointed Acting Rector, Advocate Hlomohang Majara, speaks with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Lekhetho Ntsukunyane about the latest development at the institution, which is popularly known as Fokothi.
LT: We heard about the school reopening next week. What have been the developments that led to this decision?
Majara: Following the suspension of classes for over a month due to many things not going right at the college, the Lerotholi Polytechnic Governing Council held a meeting on 24 September 2014 and decided to reopen the school. The Minister of Education and Training (’Makabelo Mosothoane) was duly consulted about reopening of the school. The students are expected back at school next week Tuesday. Their parents, on the other hand, have been invited for a meeting with the minister on Monday.
LT: What is the agenda of the parents’ meeting with the minister?
Majara: The meeting has been called by the Honourable Minister. We cannot predict what she wants to say but my guess is that she wants to discuss the crisis which led to the school’s closure, as well as strategies meant to end the culture of torture of first-year students by their colleagues.
LT: In the meeting the management held with parents on 30 August 2014, you could not reach consensus regarding the suspension of lessons. You then indicated you had sought Cabinet’s intervention in the stalemate. Did you finally get this intervention?
Majara: We have not received Cabinet’s intervention as yet. We are aware that because of the current political situation in the country, Cabinet has not been meeting. But Council realised that if the situation continues, Cabinet might not convene anytime soon to discuss our request. That is why Council then decided to reopen the school for the good of both the students and the institution itself, while still arranging to meet with the Cabinet as soon as the situation allows.
LT: What exactly did you request from Cabinet?
Majara: Like I said, following failure to reach consensus with the parents on 30 August 2014, Council wrote to Cabinet seeking assistance on three issues. First, that the government considers financing us for the restructuring of the entire institution; secondly, to assist us in outsourcing private investigations concerning the ill-treatment of our first-year learners by their seniors, and thirdly, the Council asked Cabinet to consider funding accommodation for all the students on campus as maybe one way of curbing the brutal ill-treatment. We have three options concerning the students’ accommodation on campus. These are whether we upgrade dormitories which already have structures, although very old; we purchase prefabs or we build new dormitories. When we first suspended classes, we thought these processes would have at least in part, been sorted with Cabinet’s intervention, but unfortunately it seems things may not get back to normal anytime soon. The Council could not close the school forever while we wait for Cabinet to intervene.
LT: What measures have you taken to bring change to the college since the closure?
Majara: Like I said, further major processes are pending, but there is some progress that has been made by the Council. First I should mention that the Council, on its part, has not rested since the school closed in August. It engaged in several meetings preceding that of 24 September. Many issues were discussed during those meetings, which are yet to be finalised to determine the way forward.
LT: We heard about the changes in the Acting position of the Registrar, can you highlight us.
Majara: Dr Palo Pokothoane has been relieved from the position of Acting Rector. You will recall he was appointed to act in the position following the suspension of the former Rector Tsietsi Lebakae. The institution has rules, regulations and policies running it. Following the stipulations of some sections of these guiding tools, Council decided to relieve Dr Pokothoane of the post with effect from 1 October 2014. He will remain the Deputy Rector – Academic, a position he still held while he was Acting Rector.
LT: You are Registrar and are now Acting Rector, we heard there are other changes pertaining to the position of the Bursar and that of the Deputy Rector – Administration and infrastructural development, please brief us.
Majara: Other changes, as you asked, included that suspended bursar, Thabiso Zwane. His suspension has been lifted and he is now back on duty effectively from 1 October 2014. You will recall that following the suspension of Mr Lebakae in April this year, Mr Zwane was also suspended the following month. They were both suspended pending investigations into alleged financial mismanagement following the LRA (Lesotho Revenue Authority) report that the school had failed to remit about M13 million in pay-as-you-earn tax to the department. The institution has since officially broken ties with Mr Lebakae through an amicable separation. Council has frozen the position of Deputy Rector – Administration and Infrastructure Development. You may remember also in May this year, Mr Machela Nkhethoa, who occupied the position of Deputy Rector – Administration, resigned. Council has decided to freeze that position until further notice.
LT: Does this mean you have dropped that investigation?
Majara: Not absolutely. We have the Governing Council Audit and Risk Committee, which is a body responsible for monitoring and managing risks regarding the institution on continuing basis. This means while it does this job, it provides guidance on measures to be taken where any risk is identified inclusive of financial matters. I guess any investigation may be carried out should a need be identified.
LT: Could you please clarify this statement. You suspended Mr Zwane pending an investigation, and all of a sudden, you are reinstating him without the probe being finalised. On the other hand, you have negotiated an amicable separation with Mr Lebakae. What is going on?
Majara: The Council reached decision. Allow me not to go into any further details on it. I have not been given the mandate to do so.
LT: Have you now repaid your debt with the LRA?
Majara: No. We are still in a financial crisis. We have not paid the money at the moment. The matter is still being debated by the Council to see how to best settle it.
LT: We heard one of the changes you made recently was to close down the Business Development Unit (BDU), which was an arm of the school responsible for generating income for the college. If true, how did you come to that decision and why?
Majara: First, it is not right to say we have closed down the BDU because this is a crucial department of this institution. However, it is registered with the registrar of companies as an independent entity under the name Lerotholi Technologies. Its main objective, like you said, is to generate income for the institution. However, Council has to temporarily close with a few to restructure it. We intend to upgrade it. But for us to achieve that, we need to suspend its operations temporarily.
LT: What do you mean by that?
Majara: The Lerotholi Polytechnic Strategic Plan 2008 – 2015 is about to lapse, and while we prepare to go for the Strategic Breakaway Session to prepare the next strategic plan. We believe it is for the benefit of the institution that when the new strategy comes, it will review structures such as proper deployment of staff, programmes offered and positions within the organisation etc.
LT: What, if I may ask, are your plans as the newly appointed Acting Rector?
Majara: First, I should let you know that I am also under supervision of the Council. I therefore have to have a very clear direction of where the Council wishes the institution to go and help in effective implementation. During my tenure, I intend to work closely with every stakeholder in making this a better place for all. With the help of the staff, their union (Lerotholi Polytechnic Teaching and Non-Teaching Staff Union), students included. Amongst the priority areas for now is to sit down and strategise how we are going to make-up for the students’ lost time. I regard my appointment as a challenge since it has come at a time when the institution is faced with serious challenges. But again, it is an opportunity to initiate change, working together with management structures and the staff, of-course.