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Student strikes avoidable

A STRIKE over allowances at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) last week left a student dead and over a dozen others injured.
The riots left a trail of destruction that could gobble thousands of maloti in repairs at the campus.
A hall was burnt and windows were shattered. 
For now we don’t know the specific details surrounding the death of the student and how the demonstration escalated to such a tragic level.
What we know for sure is what caused the strike.
Student allowances are long overdue.
They have no food. They have no books.
Some of them have been evicted from rented residences.
At the centre of this whole mess is the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS), a government department that has totally failed to dispense with its scandalously indolent ways.
Manpower, as it is widely known, has clearly learnt nothing from years of perennial blunders, endless fumbling and dithering.
NMDS director Letholetseng Ntsike told a press conference on Friday that there were certain procedures that needed to be followed before issuing money to students.
She said students were supposed to renew their contracts on specific dates but most of them had not done so.
“On the 21st August we issued the first payment of living and book allowances to the students and the last payment was done on the 16th October,” said Ntsike.
“However, there are some who are still not yet paid due to different reasons.”
She blamed students for giving wrong bank account numbers and delaying to renew their contracts.
When did she discover this?
Has she learnt so quickly the NMDS culture of making excuses and shifting blame?
We have heard this song before. 
Among the reasons that led to the chaos, Ntsike should have listed at the top the incompetence at the NMDS.
Is she not the same person who Finance Minister Timothy Thahane said in August was going to drive the government’s plan of making NMDS “cleaner, leaner and transparent”?
Year in year out, the NMDS has delayed paying out student allowances.
The NMDS’s failure to deliver has not only affected students at NUL.
Students at other institutions in the country who get government grants have been protesting over the past two weeks.
Even those students on government scholarships learning in neighbouring South Africa have been left stranded.
Yet the NMDS is never short of excuses.
If it’s not the students’ fault it’s some technical glitch in Manpower’s system.
Now a student has died.
Others have been left traumatised and injured.
Property has been damaged and reduced to rubble.
And now students have to miss precious learning time because NUL has been closed indefinitely.
We do not condone violence at all but we believe the NMDS should not give students an excuse to strike in the first place.
For how long shall we continue to keep the NMDS is its current state?
How much more time does the management there need to stop this rot?
Ntsike and her team need not be reminded that they deal with young and impulsive students who can protest at the slightest provocation.
In any case, it is the students’ democratic right to demonstrate, peacefully, against anything they are not happy with.
When the NMDS’s former director Karabo Mabote was fired in August for allegedly breaching sections of the Public Service Act in August many celebrated.
We however warned that the solution at the organisation must go beyond the change of personnel.
The problem with the NMDS is the system. 
Yet it will be unfair to blame last week’s nasty events at NUL squarely at the door of the NMDS.
 The guards at NUL also played a very huge role with their overzealousness.
The guards who know little about crowd control seemed to have gone on a rampage beating students.
Who could have possibly given them such a reckless order?
As for the police, well, it’s clear this was a failed mission.
The unfortunate death and the pellets lodged in the bodies of several students say it all.

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