MASERU — Hardly three months have gone by since government workers in South Africa engaged in a crippling strike.
Urged on by the labour leaders, nurses abandoned patients and teachers left students to fend for themselves academically.
Government operations ground to a halt as the civil servants pressed on with their demands.
The trail of damage left by the strike is colossal.
The valuable time that the students lost will never be recovered.
Now as we mark 2010 as a year of peace, lecturers and researchers at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) have the nerve to disrupt classes just because their rentals have been increased and they lack adequate tools to teach.
Such behaviour should be condemned.
For starters, NUL students don’t have anything to do with staff rentals.
It is irresponsible for anyone to make them suffer simply because the university management and academic staff have failed to resolve their problems.
Granted, some of their concerns are genuine.
Yet that does not justify sacrificing students.
Holding students hostage because the university has increased rentals for staff houses or failed to provide laptops is just not fair.
It is sinister that the lecturers chose to launch their job action when students were writing examinations.
Would the same lecturers boldly take responsibility when the students fail their examinations?
It seems the lecturers at NUL are so blind they don’t realise that by striking at this time they are playing poker with the educational wellbeing of future generations.
While the lecturers already possess academic credentials the students whose examinations they are sabotaging have none.
They are still struggling to get mere degrees
But it is the hypocrisy of this whole strike that is galling.
When students went on strike last year to protest over delayed accommodation allowances from the government they were told that they were being unprofessional.
They were told that they should learn to live within their means.
They were told that they should move to cheaper houses.
Now the same people who were berating students for striking over housing allowances are now striking because the university has increased rentals for its houses.
This is probably the first time in my life that I have heard a tenant rebelling against the landlord over a rental increase.
So why don’t our good lecturers move out to places where they will pay less rentals?
While it is true that a 100 percent increase in rentals is ridiculous I still don’t see how it will be reversed simply because the lecturers have disrupted learning at the university.
NUL lecturers and management should take their usual vacation to Mohale and settle their differences instead of using students as pawns in their political games.
Much as lectures have a right to complain, they don’t have a right to stand as obstacles in the path of the future of the students.
To worsen matters, all their leader could say was that they were sorry to have disrupted the exams.
Such a half-hearted apology is shocking especially coming from a lecturer.
But that does not mean that the apology is not pregnant with crucial lessons.
By apologising the leader was merely confirming that the union knew that the strike was ill-timed and would affect the very same students they claim to be trying to help.
The union is clearly aware that it bungled in its attempts to use students to get what they want from the management.
The lecturers have boxed themselves into a corner.
They have lost the morale ground that they have always had.
Instead of being victims they have turned into aggressors.
In their attempt to wring concessions from the management they have started hurting the very soul of the university — students.
I am sure this will serve as their “think twice” memo before they act in future.
An ancient African adage says when two elephants fight it’s the grass that suffers.