MASERU -Youth, Sports and Recreation minister Mathabiso Lepono was almost reduced to tears after National University of Lesotho (NUL) students heckled the vice-chancellor at the official opening for the Intervarsity Games on Monday.
Trouble started when the master of ceremony called the vice chancellor Adelani Ogunrinade to deliver his speech to officially open the games.
The students started jeering and shouting insults.
They sang vulgar songs and refused to be addressed by the vice-chancellor.
The students then walked away as the vice-chancellor was about to deliver his speech.
The students said they were protesting against the vice chancellor’s refusal to release money to buy sporting equipment to prepare for the games.
They also accused Ogunrinade of blocking their allowances.
Lepono told the Lesotho Times that she was shocked and thoroughly embarrassed by the students’ behaviour.
Lepono said she almost broke down in tears with embarrassment.
“I almost cried. I was so embarrassed by those students. I think everyone there was embarrassed. I am still embarrassed.”
“It’s shocking that we have so much drunkenness at our institutions and amongst our youth,” Lepono said.
“Their behaviour was totally uncalled for. I felt hurt. I was so hurt that I wanted to cry. They were busy singing and making noise while the vice chancellor was speaking. That was bad behaviour which has something to do with drunkenness.”
She said she was so embarrassed that at one time she thought of leaving the event.
“How could they choose such a grant occasion to embarrass the whole country? I wanted to leave but I restrained myself because Iam a mother and a senior government official. I could not confront them because I knew it might get worse.”
“As a mother and a minister I felt extremely ashamed because of their unruly behaviour.”
Lepono said she believed the main cause of the students’ rowdy behaviour was the abuse of alcohol.
“They are drinking a lot. They are taking too much beer. Did you see that the student leader was actually drunk? He was just too drunk to say anything,” Lepono said.
The minister said “the government was concerned with the amount of drunkenness in this country especially amongst the youths”.
“Our children are over-drinking.”
She said the government was already working on a comprehensive plan to deal with the abuse of alcohol amongst the youth in particular and the whole country in general.
“This has reached alarming levels and we are going to deal with it. Its getting out of hand and it cannot be allowed to get any worse.”
The Lesotho Times witnessed the incident which left NUL management, government officials, donors and international education delegates visibly embarrassed.
After the event Lepono could barely contain her anger.
“Why do these children want to embarrass me like this? Why?”
And when she saw a Lesotho Times photographer she said: “Please ntate take the pictures of those silly kids so that their parents can see how they behave when they are away from home.”
The Intervarsity Games are an annual event for university students from Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho.
The official opening ceremony was attended by Assistant Minister of Education and Training Malijana Maqelepo, other government officials and members of the diplomatic community.
Officials from the three universities were also present.
NUL SRC president Caston Thahanyane told the gathering that the students were not happy with the vice-chancellor.
He lashed out at the vice-chancellor for neglecting the students’ welfare.
“There is something wrong with these Intervarsity Games because financial constraints have prevented our students from practising for these games,” Thahanyane said.
“Students allowances are not yet released by the people responsible.”
University of Swaziland SRC president, Success Dlamini, was conciliatory.
“We want to assure you that there is not going to be any violence during the games,” said Dlamini.
“We are here to celebrate our future, past and present by way of sharing ideas and experiences as we take part in sporting activities.”