THE troubled National University of Lesotho (NUL) has been thrown into further turmoil after the fatal shooting of a female student on Friday night, allegedly by the police.
Tumelo Mohlomi (24), a fourth-year student from Qacha’s Nek, was shot in the back of the head and died on the spot at a popular night spot just outside the Roma-based university, allegedly by one of the police officers who had come to close the bar that evening.
Police spokesperson, Superintendent Clifford Molefe, yesterday told the Sunday Express a suspect was in custody over the incident, with investigations ongoing.
A grisly picture of Ms Mohlomi’s body taken soon after the shooting has been circulating on social media networks.
A relative of the deceased, Mphonyane Mohlomi spoke of the family’s grief at the news of her death in an interview with the Sunday Express yesterday.
Ms Mphonyane said she had communicated with the late Ms Mohlomi on the night of her killing only to find out about her death on social media yesterday in the morning.
“It is strange because I had just talked to her at about 11pm on Friday night casually asking her about the security situation in Roma and she assured me everything was okay,” Ms Mphonyane said, adding, “I got worried this morning (yesterday) when I logged into Facebook and saw that people were passing condolence messages about someone who had died at NUL.”
“And when they wrote ‘Rest in peace Tummy oa Molele’, I suspected something might be wrong with my cousin and I immediately called her phone but it was not reachable.
“I then called my sister and we rushed to Roma where we found other relatives,” Ms Mohlomi said.
“Roma police told us that she was hit by a stray bullet that went off during a tussle for a gun between a policeman and one unidentified man from the nearby Hatabutle village.
“When we inquired if any arrests had been made, the police told us no one had been arrested but investigations were on-going.”
She however, said the family was not convinced by the police’s explanation because some eye witnesses gave a different account of the shooting.
“Some of the students who were near the scene said they saw the police officer who fired the shot, and there was no tussle whatsoever as the police suggested. The police officer was clearly seen firing the shot. So, we doubt what the police said is really true.
“It is a huge loss to us as we had high expectations about her future,” Ms Mphonyane said, adding, she was a final year Humanities student who was “not far from job hunting in order to help the family”.
Ms Mphonyane said they were very close with the deceased and earlier that day, they had exchanged text messages about her visiting Maseru.
“She was everything to me and I was everything to her. We used to spend weekends and holidays together at my place whenever she had time. I was her confidant and we used to share life’s challenges,” Ms Mphonyane said.
Ms Mohlomi’s killing evoked memories of the 2009 shooting of another NUL female student, Matšeliso Thulo also allegedly by the police.
Ms Thulo was killed in a student protest over the late disbursement of student allowances by government.
The latest killing came at a time when NUL was locked in a stalemate with government over its decision to increase tuition fees at the institution.
Several students and NUL staff members were injured during protests at the Roma and Maseru campuses which were ignited by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s delay in responding to the students’ demands that their tuition fees be fully paid by government.
Dr Mosisili eventually responded by saying some of the issues raised by the students were already under discussion between the government and NUL management.
The university had proposed a 16 to 49 percent tuition hike for first year students and 1 to 42 percent for senior students, depending on the programme of study for the 2016/2017 academic year.
The fee structure was effected without the input of the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) which said it could only afford a 10 percent increase across the board.
The NMDS is mandated with paying tuition fees, costs of research, book allowances, accommodation and food allowances among other costs for selected students.
The university was subsequently closed as the protests raged on and last week, NUL Vice-Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao turned down the government’s request to allow lectures to continue while negotiations with the Development Planning ministry continued.
He argued that the university had not been given any guarantees that the requested fee structure would be honoured by the government through the NMDS hence the decision to suspend lectures.
However, Development Planning Minister Semano Sekatle said the university’s decision to increase the fees had been unilateral and unaffordable for the NMDS.
He also accused the students of being politically-motivated in protesting against the government instead of protesting against the university which had increased fees.
And in an interview with the Sunday Express yesterday, NUL Student Representative Council’s (SRC) Secretary General, Thato Ponya said they suspected that SRC President Tšepo Makakane was the intended target for the shot that took Ms Mohlomi’s life.
Mr Ponya said the deceased had just been chatting with the SRC president when the shot rang out.
“I was not personally at NUL when the incident happened but I am reliably informed that our SRC president Mr Makakane had just left the table where he had been talking to the deceased when the shot rang out.
“We have reason to believe that the target was Mr Makakane but unbeknown to the assailants he had just left the place when the shot was fired.
“We believe this to be the case because of the resistance he has demonstrated to the government during the ongoing NUL fees matter,” Mr Ponya said, adding, “If they (government) want to kill us, they should come out openly,” he added.
He said it was shocking that a defenceless female student had been shot in cold blood without any provocation.
“It is especially shocking because there was no resistance whatsoever from the students who were at the restaurant when the police came and ordered the restaurant to close for the night. She did not do anything to provoke the police.
“We will continue to fight for our right to education until the end. We won’t be intimidated by these violent acts which government is employing to suppress us.”
Results of a referendum on Friday had indicated that the majority of students wanted lectures to resume but Mr Ponya said that was now unlikely to happen after the killing.
“We were ready to resume lectures as indicated by the referendum, although its turnout was questionable. But after this shooting, it is doubtful we will go ahead with that resolution. We would rather fight on until the June elections which will usher in a new government that we hope will be sympathetic to our plight.”
He said in the meantime, they would stage countrywide campaigns to discourage the electorate from voting for the current regime as it was “anti-education” and also “violent”.
Meanwhile, the Basotho National Party (BNP) Youth League has condemned the shooting, saying this was the latest in a series of killings under Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s watch.
“We are deeply concerned about developments at the NUL.
“Our expectation was that by now a true leader of the people would have found a lasting solution to the problems of the institution but the prime minister and his government seem to be turning a blind eye,” the BNPYL said in a statement yesterday.
“This tragedy where a policeman is reported to have killed a NUL student has shocked us and sent shivers down our spines concerning the acts of the disciplined forces under the rule of Prime Minister Mosisili.
“We wonder whether the guns that have been bought with our taxes are meant to kill us especially the students.”
The BNPYL accused Dr Mosisili of failing to address pertinent issues concerning the welfare of students and spent his energy on infighting with his Democratic Congress (DC) party in order to maintain power.
“A responsible ruler is one who invests in human capital and the (parliamentary) no-confidence motion on the prime minister and his government which took place on March 1 was due to a wide range of issues which included corruption, nepotism and brutal killings of the people.
“We wonder how many people have to die for the prime minister and his partners to be satisfied as it looks like they are in some kind of a deal to kill Basotho. We are saying this because persecutions, tortures and brutal killings seem to be the thing binding the ruling partners together.”
Dr Mosisili’s Political and Economic Advisor, Dr Fako Likoti, said Ms Mohlomi’s killing was “a very unfortunate incident which should be thoroughly investigated” by the police.
“Since a suspect is already in custody, it would be wise for everyone to wait for the police investigation which would get to the bottom of this very sad incident,” Dr Likoti.
“The law should take its course so that we get to the bottom of this matter.”
In response to the BNP’s allegations against the premier, Dr Likoti urged the party to “desist from using such an unfortunate incident for political ends”.
“The BNP and other like-minded parties like to use incidents such as these to score political points. That is reprehensible and they should desist from that practice,” he added.
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