Murder protests close university

March 24, 1995

The University of Botswana has been closed indefinitely following student protests at apparent government failure to investigate the ritual murder of a school student.

The minister of education, Gaositwe Chiepe, said the closure was caused by an "illegal demonstration staged by the students of the University of Botswana who caused unprovoked malicious damage to property and violently invaded the National Assembly while in session". The closure applied to all students and classes, but not to university staff who were instructed to "continue with their normal duties" by Thomas Tlou, vice chancellor.

The demonstration was a response by the university students to the disturbances in Mochudi which centred on protests arising from the death of a 14-year-old female student whose body was found dumped at a school last November with her genitals cut off. University students marched to the parliament building and demonstrators damaged vehicles and shops.

The Student Representative Council took the government to court seeking the re-opening of the university. But the government won its case, only to hand powers back to the university council and the vice chancellor, who decided that the university would reopen on March 8.

The government over-ruled the decision and decreed that the university should remain closed. Police have moved to arrest student leaders for their part in the illegal demonstration, and the government seems to want to keep the university closed to avoid further demonstrations and student-led strikes.

The crisis in Mochudi remains unresolved. Primary and secondary students have returned to school. The men who were arrested by the police in December, a month after the murder, were released the following day because of "insufficient evidence". In January "enraged school students" in Mochudi began attacking and burning the property of the businessmen who were allegedly guilty of the murder of their fellow student, prompting the official clampdown. Meanwhile no one has been arrested for the murder, and the authorities have turned to Britain and Scotland Yard for assistance in their investigation.

The students accused the police of using "heavy-handed tactics" and not treating the case as a ritual murder, designed to enhance the businesses of those suspected of having carried it out.

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