By ‘Masentle Makara
Roma, Sept 27 (The Night’s Watch) – As the National University of Lesotho (NUL)’s shutdown due to violent students’ protest stretches into a second week, it is not just the university and students getting pinched.
The shutdown has left a bitter taste in the mouths of the street vendors around the university whose businesses rely on students.
This also includes the taverns, restaurants and other businesses around Lesotho’s largest university situated in the Roma Valley, some 34 kilometres southeast of Maseru, the capital of Lesotho.
The longer the shutdown lasts, the worse it will get for everyone.
On Thursday last week, government-sponsored students went on the rampage, pulled down a tent erected in readiness for a series of graduation ceremonies ending tomorrow (Saturday).
The marauding students attempted to torch the marquee.
They were protesting against the delays in payment of their allowances allegedly by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS).
The university’s management responded with a lockout, leaving only postgraduate, international and disabled students on campus.
Here is a look at the ripple effects of the shutdown on the businesses around campus:
“NUL is poor. What happened to my Alma mater? I wish there was someone to answer my endless questions,” said Tšebeletso Sobane, a budding entrepreneur selling clothes, in an interview with The Night’s Watch this week.
Sobane was a student at NUL from 2010 to 2014.
She started selling clothes when she was a student.
Soon after completing her studies, she started a clothing boutique in the campus but moved out in June this year.
Sobane now thinks it has become a norm for NUL students to go on strike at the begginging of each academic year over delayed allowances while management at both NMDS and NUL seem to have accepted these strikes as par for the course.
“Students do not strike for themselves alone, but for us too. When they do not have money, we also do not have customers because we rely on them. When they have money, we also have good business. Without students, there is no business in Roma,” she said.
The Chairman of Roma Small Businesses Bishop Khotso Pokane, popularly known as Moruti in and around the campus, told The Night’s Watch that due to the shutdown, he had not made as much as he had projected.
Normally, Pokane would have made thousands of maloti last weekend – benefitting mostly from students who spend extravagantly during the graduations.
“I over stocked meat for the graduation, knowing that they always buy during this time of the year, but I ran loss,” he said.
The shutdown has also left the Roma taxi industry shipwrecked.
In an interview with The Night’s Watch this week, Roma Taxi Association’s Nyatso Hlalele said their business suffer most when the university is closed.
“We understand why students strike; we really do but sometimes we wish they could find alternatives ways of protesting that will not lead to the closure of the university. Students are not our only customers but they make a larger chunk of our customers, there is hardly any business without them,” Hlalele said.
Public Eye reported today that the workers of the NUL have also delivered a stinging rebuke of the university’s management, branding last week’s controversial decision to lock students out of campus “disingenuous”.
The university management blamed “an organised clique that has infiltrated the student body with the view to orchestrate the destabilization of the university”.
But in a letter written by Mathe Ntšekhe on behalf of the NUL community representation, the workers distanced themselves from “the decision that sought to evacuate students from campus”.
The workers said “that decision is disingenuous as it fails to bring us to account for our own failures in ensuring that the funds were distributed in a timely manner by the NMDS”.
Ntšekhe also noted in the letter that, as an institution, NUL had failed to create a contingency plan after failing to submit lists and process some of the students results on time.
“For us, acknowledging this failure would have gone a long way in avoiding a narrative where some students are painted as a clique that has infiltrated the Student Body with the view to orchestrate the destabilization of the university when in reality we have many students who are hungry and are unable to learn,” she said.
According to Public Eye, NUL, formerly University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS), has been gradually losing its luster from the time when it was wildly trumpeted as citadel of academic excellence in the region.
Things have gone awry at the university since the 2000s.
NUL is now replete with crumbling infrastructure which has affected quality, relevance and uniqueness of its programmes when juxtaposed against other universities in the region, due in the main to a dearth of government funding. NW