MASERU — Students at the Lesotho College of Education (LCE) had to scrounge for food because the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) has not paid their grants for two months.
The students said since the semester started in February their lives have been miserable because they are too broke to afford the basics like food, soap, books and rent.
They said for two months they starved and survived on borrowings from relatives and friends while the NMDS dithered with their grants.
The students demonstrated at the NMDS offices last Friday but they were dispersed by the police who said the gathering was illegal.
Police said the students should have sought permission three days before the demonstration.
The students said they had no choice but to demonstrate because the NMDS had failed to deliver on its promises to pay the grants.
They said some of them had become so weak that they could not attend classes.
Others were making frequent visits the college clinic.
First and third-year students were the most affected.
Second-year students are currently on attachment.
“We waited patiently until we could wait no more. We starved until we were too weak to attend class,” said a third-year student who requested anonymity.
“We have a serious shortage of food and other basics.”
Students Representative Committee (SRC) member Sekhopha Phomane told the Lesotho Times that at least 20 students had developed physical weaknesses which the college’s internal clinic attributed to lack of enough food.
“Many students became sick due to hunger,” Phomane said.
“You cannot expect us to spend months without food and remain silent until we all die.”
“Manpower should understand that the sponsorship is not a grant but a loan which we will repay,” said another student.
“They should not treat us like we are receiving donations.
“They cannot keep us here without money to buy food and other necessary things. This is torture.”
LCE rector Ntalenyane Lesoetsa said he was aware that the students were starving.
Lesoetsa said some lecturers approached him requesting that they revive the college kitchen to feed the students.
Lesoetsa said the lecturers were concerned that some students were not concentrating in class due to hunger.
“I know that the students go to the classes hungry,” he said.
He however said the students were the ones that rejected the communal food at the college, adding that if the programme had been maintained the situation would not have reached such crisis levels.
“The students used to accuse us of embezzling their funds saying they wanted their money to go straight to them,” Lesoetsa said.
“We did as they wanted and now they do not have food.
“They should also take part of the blame for this problem.”
Lesoetsa said the college had tried to help the students by allowing them to live in campus hostels before they paid their rentals.
“If we were following our rules, we wouldn’t allow them,” he said.
Lesoetsa said the situation was worse for first-year students because out of ignorance they had not even registered with the NMDS.
“Nothing binds Manpower to give them money because they have not registered with it,” he said.
Efforts to contact the NMDS were not successful.