Ntsebeng Motsoeli and Nat Molomo
MASERU — Police shot and injured seven students during violent protests at Limkokwing University on Monday.
Two guards from Security Lesotho were also shot during clashes between the police and the striking students.
A police officer was also injured after the angry students allegedly hit him with stones.
The police say they used rubber bullets and pellets.
They also claim they were acting in self-defence when they shot the students.
After the clashes police arrested 32 students they suspected to have participated in the violent protests that left property worth thousands of maloti damaged at the campus.
Eight of the injured — six students and two security guards — were treated as outpatients at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital while one was admitted until yesterday afternoon.
The students went on strike last Thursday in protest over the expulsion of a student leader.
Moeketsi Pholo, the Students’ Representative Council president, was expelled last Thursday for allegedly disrupting examinations.
The students reacted by boycotting classes and demanded that Pholo be reinstated.
When that failed they started demonstrating.
They continued picketing at the campus gates on Friday.
All hell broke loose on Monday when the management announced that the university was being closed until further notice.
Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha said they received a report around 9.30am that some students had taken teachers and management staff hostage. He said the report alleged the students were also threatening to kill the hostages.
Masupha said when the police arrived at the campus students pelted their vehicle with stones.
“The police car was damaged and one officer was injured on the foot,” Masupha said.
“Police had to fire at the mob which was becoming violent. Seven students were shot and injured. Two security guards were also shot and injured by the police.”
He added that the students also damaged four cars belonging to university workers as they went on the rampage.
Masupha said the police were in the process of investigating the officers who were involved in the shooting incident to determine if their action was justified.
“Police are investigating to see if the action the officers took was necessary. Those who were shot have been asked to bring doctors’ reports of the inspection of wounds to see the kind of ammunition that was used,” Masupha said.
This is the second time that students at Limkokwing have gone on strike since September.
In October lecturers also threatened to down tools in protest over what they said were poor salaries.
By Monday evening police had rounded up 32 students — 19 girls and 13 boys — and detained them at the Maseru Charge Office.
But on Tuesday morning police charged only 19 students for allegedly holding an illegal meeting.
Their effort to get bail on Tuesday afternoon failed because the police only brought them to court after prosecutors and magistrates had knocked off.
They were taken back to the charge office where they spent their second night.
The students were only granted free bail just after midday yesterday.
The remaining 13 who were not charged were also released yesterday.
Most of them were however still at the charge office by 4pm yesterday waiting for the police to give them medical forms to allow them to seek treatment.
Some of the students who spoke to the Lesotho Times alleged that the police had beaten them with gun butts and truncheons after their arrest.
Ramajake Thebe, 25, was among those injured in the shooting.
He said the police shot him three times and he had to be admitted at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital.
Thebe told the Lesotho Times that he sustained bullet wounds on the left side of his rib cage, one under the right eye and the other on the arm.
He said doctors told him they could not locate the bullet which went through the rib cage.
“I am scared. There is a bullet stuck inside me and doctors say they cannot locate it. I might have to carry it with me until the worst happens,” said Thebe.
When the Lesotho Times visited him at his home shortly after he was released from hospital yesterday, Thebe was visibly in pain.
He was walking with the help of a crutch. His left hand and lower abdomen were bandaged.
“I am so much in pain. The wounds on my hand are painful. The doctor said there were pellets stuck in the bone.
“The wound on the stomach is killing me. I am afraid it may affect my physical wellbeing,” he said.
In a statement yesterday, Education and Training Minister ‘Mamphono Khaketla said Limkokwing students might not get their monthly allowances from the government if they continue boycotting classes.
“As government we will not stand aside and watch as tax-payers’ money is being abused,” the minister said.
“Students should also recall that they have signed an agreement with the NMDS that they would be given sponsorship as long as they are in good standing with the university.
“This means that when the students are not in school (except when they are officially on school holiday) NMDS will not give them their monthly allowances,” Khaketla said.
Meanwhile, opposition political parties have condemned the shooting.
The Basotho National Party (BNP) said it was dismayed at the police actions.
BNP leader Metsing Lekhanya said it was unfortunate that violence and not dialogue was used to deal with students.
“He appealed for restraint and also called upon the government to leave no stone unturned in resolving the Limkokwing and other issues without resorting to violence,” said the party in a statement.
The All Basotho Convention (ABC)’s youth league said in a press release that the party was shocked that the government had not done anything to stop violence against the students.
“We urge His Majesty’s ministers who are responsible for these matters to act urgently,” the ABC youth league said.
He said it was Khaketla’s responsibility to deal with the crisis.
They also implored Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla, who is also the home affairs minister, to tell the police to stop violence against the students.
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, the youth league said, should intervene in the crisis.
“When things are like this, they need your attention as the leader.”