Botswana reopens following boycott

March 22, 2002

The University of Botswana has reopened after a three-week closure but all returning students have had to sign a document binding them to guidelines and procedures "for the resolution of student concerns; study body meetings; maintenance of peace, good order and good government of the university".

The university closed to all students in February after a boycott of classes organised by the student representative council. The student demonstrations were a bid for an increase in allowances from the ministry of education, and a reduction in the cost of food in the university refectories.

When the students delivered their petition to the ministry, education minister George Kgoroba said that there was no money - over one year it would cost about 4.8 million pula (£500,000) to increase the allowance of each student by only two pula a day - and, even if there were money, he would rather increase the number of scholarships for tertiary study.

The demonstrations turned violent. Students who wanted to continue working were chased from classrooms by militants armed with sticks, steel bars and tree branches, loud hailers and horns. The university remained closed while the administration worked out sound procedures for re-opening. This included the re-validation of the registration processes and disciplinary actions to be taken against student leaders for organising meetings during class time, for attempting to march to the ministry without a permit, for disturbing the peace in the refectory, and for assaulting students who did not support the boycott.

More than 5,000 out of 12,000 students re-registered on the first day. Some 100 have not re-registered at all.

A court case brought by the student representative council against the closure of the university could take more than a year to be heard.

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