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Tensions simmer between Roma community and NUL students

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Lehlohonolo Motšoari

Senator and Principal Chief of Ha Maama Seeiso Maama has issued a scathing indictment, demanding urgent government intervention to avert a potential powder keg situation brewing between the Roma community and National University of Lesotho (NUL) students.

The call comes on the heels of vandalism unleashed during Monday’s protest by NUL students.

NUL, the nation’s premier and most historic university is located in Roma, a quaint valley located 34 km southeast of Maseru, the capital city.

The scenic beauty of the Roma valley, flanked by rugged mountains, now serves as a stark contrast to the turmoil brewing within its confines.

In an interview with Newsday this week, Maama sounded a dire warning, cautioning that the recurring violent protests at NUL could spiral out of control if left unchecked.

“In the past, when NUL students engaged in protests, they would travel to Maseru and direct their grievances to the appropriate authorities, however, in recent times, we’ve witnessed a troubling shift, where these protests have devolved into acts of vandalism targeting community properties,” Maama said.

Highlighting the broader implications of the unrest, Maama stated that the blame could not solely be placed on students. “This crisis implicates multiple stakeholders, with the government bearing significant responsibility,” he asserted.

He added: “The Ministry of Education must take proactive measures to bring an end to these protests.”

The students have been waiting for student cards for two years now

“Equally crucial is the prioritisation of national reforms, particularly within institutions such as the NMDS (National Manpower Development Secretariat), as it is evident that fundamental issues plague this body.”

Promising to elevate the issue to the Senate, Maama underscored the urgency of resolving the crisis for the sake of peace in the Roma Valley. He indicated that this was not just a student issue but a matter of community stability.

According to Tumo Tsanyane, the President of the NUL Student Representative Council (SRC), the students boycotted classes on Monday due to unresolved grievances.

“The students have been waiting for student cards for two years now,” Tsanyane revealed.

“Additionally, there is discontent among post-graduate students who receive a monthly stipend of only M300, despite it being M1,800. The discrepancy arises from deductions made by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) as repayment for previous loans.”

Tsanyane also highlighted that the timing of these protests, as final examinations draw near, was a reflection of prevailing circumstances.

He confirmed ongoing engagement with the government in search of a peaceful resolution.

The protests have escalated to the point where property damage has become a grave concern within the Roma community.

Councilor Sipho Ramalitse of Manonyane A04 council expressed alarm over the situation, revealing rumours that the protesters targeted a foreign-owned chain retailer.

“There is a belief that damaging such businesses will pressure the government into swift action, but they fail to realise the potential consequences for our community,” Ramalitse lamented.

He raised additional concerns about the presence of illegal participants masquerading as students, exacerbating the situation with unlawful activities such as theft.

He highlighted the community’s frustration over recurring incidents that threaten their development and livelihoods.

Ramalitse revealed that despite previous efforts to address the situation, only the representation of the university’s registrar did not attend the meeting.

In response, the community is now mobilising to convene a meeting with area chiefs and other stakeholders to prepare for action against the recurring violent protests.

“We need to defend ourselves,” Ramalitse stressed, citing the lack of police intervention during the recent strike due to past incidents.

He referenced the tragic events of June 16, 2022, when police opened fire on protesting students, resulting in the death of one student, Kopano Francis Mokutoane, and injuries to several others.

Following this incident, several police officers were suspended for their use of excessive and unlawful force.

“When these protests occur, it is not just students involved, and there are illegalities that take place. We must protect our community,” Ramalitse said.

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