Students at Kgari Sechele Senior Secondary School in Molepolole went on the rampage in protest at the disruption in their studies caused by the ongoing public services strike. The students threw stones and sang derogatory songs at the police, prior to a meeting with the Education Minister whom they jeered at. The police had been called in to take control of the chaotic situation.
The protest followed the announcement by the Minister of Education Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi who requested to address the Form 4s on how the national strike has affected them. This did not go down well with the Form 5s who said they were being given a raw deal by the minister and the school management. The students who were mobilised by the school prefects blocked the main entrance and refused to let cars inside. “Open the boot, we want to see what is inside,” demanded one student as the Mmegi car approached the entrance. Taken aback, the driver asked the students to let him through only to be met by resistance. The students hit the car on the sides as they chanted “out out.” They moved on to the main road as they disrupted traffic along the Molepolole-Thebephatswa road.
As a police truck filled with officers entered the school through a back entrance, students chanted. “Ga re batle mapodise, re batla thuto fela.” The police could only stand on alert as students sang derogatory songs at them.As they made their way to their truck, parked at the far end of the school, students picked up stones and hurled them at the truck as police officers lay down to avoid being hit.
The Education Minister who had been at the police station with the school head Amen Kologwe, later sneaked inside the school through a back entrance escorted by the police officer as 30 more remained on guard outside the school. She told the students that there was nothing she could do before 14 days of the strike had elapsed.She explained that according to the Trade Dispute Act, she could not bring in replacement staff. She said the students had been incited by the politicians to embark on a student revolution, which was “unheard of” in Botswana. “This is about your future. Your future is in your hands and how you make that will be determined by how you carry yourself. Whether you pass or fail is totally determined by your willingness to study,” she said as students booed and jeered at her.
However when she opened the floor for questions, one student said that they have not been requested by any teacher or politician to protest. “It is our future and if we do nothing concerning our future and do not say anything we will end up being nothing in the future,” the student said.
The meeting ended with two striking teachers being advised to report to the police station today as there were allegedly not supposed to have entered the school premises to attend the meeting.
According to the student leadership who preferred not to be named, the Form 5s had requested that they be allowed to attend the minister’s meeting with the Form 4s. “The school head told us that he had no authority to overrule the minister’s decision,” said one female prefect. She said they were worried that after last year’s examinations crisis and the theme for their projects final course work had only been revealed last month.
She said among the issues existing before the public service strike, was that teachers were working eight hours and not conducting afternoon studies. The students revealed that since last term teachers had not been attending classes on a daily basis and students had been told that there was a problem with the buses on the Tlokweng -Molepolole route.
“Now the teachers are on strike and it is unfortunate for those students who are commuting from neighbouring villages who spend their parents’ hard-earned money for days wasted in school. We approached the school leadership about how this strike is affecting us and he told us that it was a national strike and there was nothing he could do,” the student said.
Taking over, a male prefect said they were taken aback when the Minister of Education went on national television after meeting with the students at Lobatse Senior School who caused commotion on Wednesday afternoon. “She was basically saying the students are being politically involved in the strike. She doesn’t think that we are old enough to think for ourselves. If we cannot stand up for ourselves no one can,” he said.
Chipping in another student said that the teachers who had remained behind are also not actively working. “They do not give the students doing Physical Education their equipment. We wonder why they are here because if they do not want to do their job they would be better off on strike with the others. The running of the school has been delegated to the prefects now,” she said adding that the final external examinations for the Form 5s were a couple of months away and they could not afford to have their time wasted.
“When the elephants fight it is the grass that suffers. They don’t like the truth when it is told and now because actions speak louder than words we will show her how serious we are. They have called the police to intimidate us on our ground. We thought that there was freedom of expression in Botswana,” said another prefect adding that, “in South Africa students have been beaten and some of them died for standing up for what they believed in. We are ready to fight for our rights, not only for us but also for the coming generation. Just look at how long the form fours have been in school with their notebooks still clean.”