Students’ riots spread

Student riots spread to many junior and senior secondary schools around the country on Monday, in some cases resulting in the destruction of school property.

Riots broke out at the Kagiso Senior Secondary school and the Ramotswa, Kelemogile and Baitlotli Secondary Schools in Ramotswa on Monday.

According to sources at Kagiso trouble began in the morning at the assembly after the deputy headmaster had introduced new teachers; there was murmur and the students threw stones at the teachers and the other students who were in already in class.  Classrooms, the kitchen and staffrooms were trashed as the students protested not being taught for weeks while the public service strike went on.

The headmaster evicted the students from the school, but they blocked the entrance from the outside and the adjacent road so that no vehicles would pass. Later they started fires in dustbins.

Ramotswa police were deployed to the school, armed with riot gear and teargas. Members of the police’ Special Support Group (SSG) were also seen patrolling the whole village.

Kagiso’s headmaster, Mr. Kolagano, declined to talk to The Gazette. “We are in a crisis here; I am handling it in all possible ways, I can comment tomorrow,” he said.

Some students who spoke to The Gazette on condition of anonymity said that they were tired of staying for weeks in school, warming chairs without being given lessons. “We want to learn, nothing else,” they said.

The students complained that their parents pay transport to enable them to come to school but when they arrive there, they do nothing. “The government doesn’t want to increase our parent’s salaries, yet they (parents) have to pay for our transport to come to school,” one said.

According to reports rioting students inflicted injuries on teachers at the Letlole Junior School in Thamaga, the Madiba Senior School in Mahalapye and the Khuduga Primary School in Gaborone West. Police station in these areas could not be reached for comment as their office lines rang unanswered.

At the Molefhi Senior Secondary School the students closed the school gate, and marched to the Radikolo and Lentswe Junior Schools to collect their colleagues. The body of students then marched to the Rovers Football Club ground where civil servants were gathered singing songs.

Bareedi Lekabe, the chief marshal of the Botswana Federations of Trade unions (BOFEPUSU) delivered a petition to the District Commissioner’s office saying  students want to be educated.

As the students marched around the village the police were nowhere to be seen; people believed that if police had come, there would have been bloodshed.

At the Gaborone West Senior Secondary School students mobilized tactfully; they ran out of the school in a group pretending to be chasing a thief. They then marched to the bus station, passed through the Khuduga primary school and marched back to their school. Khuduga Primary School headmaster, Oaboloka Dintwe called an emergency meeting and told the students to go home.

Interviewed by The Gazette, Dintwe said he had closed the school because he was concerned about students’ lives. “It seems the student lost patience; we have been talking to them not to join the strike,” he said.

At the Ledumang Senior School, the Headmaster, Mr. Moalosi, called parents to a meeting Monday morning and briefed them about the students’ strike.

It is reported that last Thursday headmasters met with the Permanent Secretary, Ms Grace Muzila, and complained that they had not been consulted about the situation in  the schools.

On Monday the Minister of Education & Skills Development, Ms Venson Moitoi, announced that she had closed all government schools.

“In accordance with the powers vested in me under Section 27 of the Education Act CAP. 58.01 I have ordered the immediate closure of all Government primary and secondary schools. The schools shall remain closed until further notice. I had to take this measure to safeguard the security of students, staff and Government property in schools,” she said.

The closure of the schools in likely to bring more pressure on the Minister of Education. Teachers have vowed that they will go home when the time for vacation comes and not make up the time that was lost during the public service strike and school riots, if asked to do so.

Form 4 students are likely to be the most affected as they had not started the first term lessons which were delayed because of late examination results.

At one private school, Westwood International School, the head of the school, Phyllis Hildebrandt, sent a circular to parents informing them that the school would be closed on Tuesday, the day it was expected to reopen after the Easter holidays.

“In light of the recent disturbances in government schools, we have decided to close school tomorrow 17th May and will inform all parents later in the day regarding the remainder of the week.  We have since increased security at school,” she said.

Reached for comment, the publicity secretary of BOFEPUSU, Goretetse Kekgonegile, said that it was very unfortunate that there were casualties during the students’ riots. He claimed that the students were provoked by the Ministry of Education and the police.

Kekgonegile said students do not have strike rules. “As unions we have never involved students because our demand is a labour issue, not a social issue.”  He thanked students and parents and everyone else for supporting them.
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