MASERU – National University of Lesotho (NUL) students may go to the polls soon, ending two years of squabbling that left the country’s premier institution of higher learning with a leadership vacuum in the students body.
Public Eye can report Dean of Student Affairs Tholoana Ntene on Tuesday this week said the Electoral College will soon announce a date for voting.
The university, managed by the incoming ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) deputy leader Professor Nqosa Mahao, is in a flux over voting delay which stoked suspicions that the university did not have funds to administer the elections.
“There are enough funds for elections. Stationery and ballot papers have been secured and electoral college to announce date,” Ntene said on Tuesday.
If it eventually happens, the elections will crown two academic years of turmoil.
The current SRC was due to step down in 2017 but clung on to office allegedly after it won the backing of Vice Chancellor Mahao, sparking protests that were repressed at the cost of the ringleaders’ future in that university.
Students leader Thabang Rapapa was suspended for four years in November last year for “instigating and inciting” riots in August at the main campus in Roma.
Two years of the four-year suspension were set aside meaning Rapapa can only reapply for admission in 2021.
Mahao was elected ABC deputy leader at an elective conference that was held at Lehakoe in Maseru on February 1 and 2, but has since been locked out of office by the outgoing National Executive Committee (NEC) which said it will not leave office until it has been presented with a detailed elections report.
The report will be issued by the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) three weeks from the date when counting of votes was finalised.
LCN was contracted by the outgoing NEC to conduct the elections which were marred by high-level turbulance that exposed substantial factionalism within the ABC.
The outcomes of the elective conference have also been challenged in the High Court by three ABC Members of Parliament namely; Habofanoe Lehana, Keketso Sello and Mohapi Mohapinyane.
Snubbing of Mahao by the outgoing ABC NEC revived, among NUL students, traumatic memories of the suppression of a students’ faction led by Rapapa that claimed it won SRC elections in 2017.
The university management released a statement saying it was aware that there were two SRCs. It said it gave the two groups a chance to solve their differences but they failed.
The Rapapa group had lodged a case in the High Court seeking recognition by Mahao but Mahao told the faction to withdraw the case and when it refused, he opted to work with its rival.
This rival group has since held on to power.
Even the Ntene’s Tuesday announcement was not voluntary.
Her comment came as a response to a petition by two concerned students, Tebello Tjapela and Khotso Masheane. The petition was sent to her office on Friday last week.
“It is with great concern that we have realised that the academic year is drawing near its end without having SRC elections for two consecutive academic years,” read Tjapela and Masheane’s petition.
It further read: “As per Article Four of the Student Union constitution: ‘The SU shall democratically elect from among its members, persons who shall form and constitute the Students Representative Council (SRC) Executive Campus Government in accordance with the provisions of the constitution.”
Tjapela and Masheane also told the DSA that they were informed by the Electoral College that the elections “which ought to have taken place last semester” had to be postponed because Electoral College “had not received any funds for the election process” from the DSA’s office.
“It is noteworthy to highlight that in April 2018 the High Court of Lesotho made an order to the effect that elections be held within 14 days after such order was given.
“Also, after we took further initiative to resolve the matter in October 2018 the NUL Moot Court made an order to the same effect but to this day we have not had any elections, this means that both orders have not been complied with,” the two students said.
They added: “We believe that it is a gross injustice to the candidates in this race and to the SU at large that up to date we have not had democratic elections because the SU has the right to democratically elect from amongst its members, their preferred representatives.
“The status quo is also contrary to the provisions of Articles 13.1, 14.4, 17.2 and 18.1 of the SU constitution which have set time limits for being in the office as a member of SRC and the holding of elections.”
They said the delay had generated, spread and perpetuated rumours that the university did not have funds.
Following Mahao’s election to ABC’s top echelons, rumour floated around the internet that his pre-election campaign for the coveted position depleted funds initially allocated for SCR election.
This was denied by both Mahao and the SRC.
Tjapela and Masheane noted in their letter that: “The issue of elections and lack of funds has led to a serious controversy within the students to the extent that it affects their day to day academic excellence and, to some extent, that it threatens the hosting of BOLESWA (Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland) intervarsity games.
“We humbly plead with your good office to explain if there are or there are no funds available for facilitation of the elections and if there are not, please put the students in light of what has happened to the funds that are supposed to facilitate the elections and/or the SRC subvention fund.”
Traditionally, NUL takes part in the BOLESWA intervarsity games, an annual event which is hosted alternately by NUL, University of Botswana (UB) and University of Swaziland (UNISWA).
This year’s games will be held NUL.
BOLESWA intervarsity games have a long history extending back to the times when NUL used to be the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS).