MASERU — The National University of Lesotho (NUL) is in chaos again. Teachers and researchers who went on strike on October 7 were last week joined by the non-academic staff.
This forced the management to close the university.
Last week the Lesotho Times spoke to the NUL Council chairman, Dr Molotsi Monyamane, about the strike and the restructuring exercise that seems to have triggered the current crisis at the university. Below are excerpts from the interview.
LT: What, in your assessment, is the root cause of the current strike at the university?
Monyamane: I believe the problem is with the restructuring. These people were in their comfort zones and the restructuring exercise is making them do some work.
There are people who are not ready for change. They are saying the restructuring must stop but we don’t understand what is there to stop because the exercise has not even started.
The vice-chancellor has invited everyone to make suggestions about where the restructuring process should go.
After receiving the contributions everybody will meet with the management to discuss where we should be taking NUL.
It is from these discussions that we will have a clear plan.
There is no preconceived structure because that would mean the management is doing this in bad faith.
The Vice-Chancellor has made it clear that the restructuring will come from the stakeholders.
LT: So are you saying those on strike now are trying to sabotage the restructuring exercise?
Monyamane: Yes, they want to sabotage the restructuring process. I suppose this is because people are worried about what the process might do.
The truth is that everybody wants NUL to be a better institution. When I say “everybody” I mean even those who are currently on strike.
It’s just that they are uncomfortable and worried about what the change might bring. But the people must understand that this restructuring is going to be a process.
What we have at the moment is a framework. We want to bring in courses in mining, water, construction and information technology.
We want to have a business school where even those people who are working can study part-time. We are going to have e-learning and we have already engaged partners to help with that.
LT: But the employees are saying they are not being consulted on key decisions.
They accuse the management of making decisions that directly affect the staff without consulting them. Surely that is a genuine concern.
Monyamane: It’s not correct to say they were not consulted. That accusation is not true because there has been ample communication about this process.
The problem is that they are confusing a framework for a restructuring with the restructuring exercise itself.
Everyone will be consulted and they will make a contribution to this process because the management does not have preconceived ideas.
The real reason why people are trying to block this process is because they are afraid. They are afraid it might push them out of their comfort zones.
LT: What do you mean when you say people are afraid of being pushed out of their “comfort zones”?
Monyamane: Some got their positions through the ballot and not merit. Some have not been working at all while others have used the university’s time to run their own companies.
People were doing what they wanted. But we are saying this university can no longer continue on this self destructive path.
Parents, students, former students and the whole nation are aware that the current situation at NUL is not sustainable.
The right thing to do is to restructure NUL to make it a more productive university.
LT: But only the non-academic staff is saying the restructuring should be stopped. The academic staff is talking about salaries. They are on strike because of salaries and not the restructuring exercise but your explanation gives the impression that all the employees are against the restructuring.
Monyamane: No. They are just using the salary issue to mask their real motives. The truth is that they are against the restructuring exercise. I believe that the academic staff wants to drive the change.
They want a restructuring process that changes the management. They want to change the management and not the way the university is operating.
NUL has become ungovernable.
The employees have put their differences aside and they are ganged up against the management.
This has been happening for years. The employees have made it a habit to fight anyone who tries to make them accountable and work hard. But this time we are not going to stop.
We have to sort out this mess once and for all. Those that are on strike will not be paid. We will not play these mind games anymore.
LT: The Lesotho University Teacher and Researchers Union (Lutaru) has already said it is prepared to resume work.
They have since told the management that they are suspending the strike for two weeks to give dialogue a chance.
Monyamane: A strike is a negotiated process. Employees cannot decide when to go back to work and when to stop working. This is not a game. If they want to end the strike they must negotiate with the management to find a lasting solution.
I suspect that they wanted to come back to work for two weeks because they know they are not going to be paid.
The management has rejected their plan to temporarily end the strike. As far as the management is concerned they are still on strike.
This is not a Lutaru university. Teachers and researchers are not the only employees of the university.
LT: Does the university have the money to meet their salary demands?
Monyamane: The truth is that there is no money. If they can show us where to get that kind of money we will be happy to pay them.
Where is that money going to come from? The university has a huge budget deficit.
LT: The non-academic staff said you are interfering with the management?
They said you are micro-managing the university when your role should be that of supervising the management.
Monyamane: I honestly don’t know what they are talking about. Our role as the council is to ensure that the management is doing what it is required to do.
We have to ensure that there is no complacency in the management.
LT: But they are not talking about the council as a whole.
They are talking about you as the chairman of the council.
Monyamane: Well, they are barking up the wrong tree. My role is to head the council which supervises the management.
The vice-chancellor is doing a good job in managing the university and clearly does not need me holding her hand.
She is an experience administrator.