BOTSWANA: National university reopens after protests

The University of Botswana, which closed on 4 February because of student protests, reopened last Monday - though many of the issues that caused the disturbances remain unresolved. There is a threat of further disturbances by a minority of students who want to take action in solidarity with Student Representative Council leaders who have been suspended or expelled.

The Student Representative Council won a case taken to the high court in Lobatse, but the university still suspended them. Confidential hearings into their cases are ongoing. The allegation is that the students perpetrated violence and university property was destroyed (staff cars were also damaged).

The University cancelled a one-week break for inter-varsity sports and other activities - such as student and staff research projects and library work - and extended the academic term by a week in order to make up for the time lost during the strike.

In early February the University of Botswana Academic and Senior Support Staff Union, or UBASSSU, supported the student protests and demanded reinstatement of all those who had been suspended, dismissed and expelled.

A motion signed by Lebohang Letsie, secretary-general of UBASSSU, deplored the student violence but blamed it on "police violence and brutality on defenceless and unarmed students and the abduction of a student leader". Later there were allegations that the security forces had abducted five students, which the authorities have denies.

The union also passed a motion-of-no-confidence in vice-chancellor Professor Bojosi Otlhogile, who was blamed along with senior management for troubles at the university. Staff claimed that problems with student progression, retakes and repetition of academic years are the result of failure to properly implement 'semesterisation' and the absence of a third short-term or 'winter school'. Further, the union believes general education courses that are part of the requirements of semesterisation do not allow for the accumulation of sufficient credits.

UBASSSU met last week but only 15 people attended the meeting and there has been no follow-up on their motion from the vice-chancellor's office or council. It would appear things have just "fizzled out", as one member commented.