Friday, January 30, 2009

Student strike

So today we had the second student strike since I have been here. I was getting ready to go to my 10am History of Southern Africa class, when my friend Rebecca, who is in class with me, gave me a call. She told me that the student protesters had just come to her last class and made everyone leave.
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Now, before I continue with the story, I'll give you some background on why there are students striking in the first place.
In Botswana, education is free from the time the students start grade school until they complete college. Now, for a University student, each month they get an allowance. This is in the range of 1500 pula ($200ish) a month, and even more for students living off campus.
Botswana is quite rich in natural resources, particularly diamonds. They have been able to finance a number of public development projects with the wealth generated from the sale of diamonds, including funding for the education system.
Due to our current economic downturn, no one is spending money on diamonds, so Botswana has not exported any diamonds in a month or two. Now this hasn't hurt the economy here that much, from what I can see, as there is not a huge problem of job loss, but it has affected the amount of money the government can give to students.
Today was supposed to be the day when the monthly allowances were to be distributed, but since the government is short on money, a number of students didn't get their money. This includes those students who failed a class, and have to take classes for a fifth year. These students are seen as less productive and not worth the governments money anymore.
Obviously upset, there was a student meeting last night, and apparently they decided to go on strike and march on the Ministry of Education to present the government with a petition.

I think that's the background, so back to the story.
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SO, since there was no classes today, I was inclined to check out what the protesters were up to. My roommate Max was doing some work in the library for the work he does at the AIDS lab, and the students showed up and made everyone leave, as apparently doing work is against the ideals of the strike.
After hearing this I decided to check out the protesters, who I could hear chanting from afar. I stayed fairly far away from them not wanting to be caught in the middle of something. While wandering, I found a number of students who were standing around watching the scene unfold. Talking to them, I found that most don't agree with what the protest is trying to accomplish. They see the students as spoiled, as they get free money every month to spend on whatever they wish. They understand that the government is short on money and know that there is no reason to get upset over it. However, as in all public demonstrations, even if you don't agree with the principles, you are still curious enough to go and take in the scene. Eventually, while talking to these students, the protesters, who now made up a mob, marched past us.
Here is the scene.
(this video took FOREVER to upload, like 2 hours, and it came out SIDEWAY! Sorry, I hope it doesn't hurt your neck. Its worth watching though.)


video

I had to keep my camera in my pocket the whole time just in case someone wasn't too keen on my filming.
I think it is safe to say that this group of people could be considered a mob.
A little while later, there was a meeting called for all international students to debrief us on the situation. We were told that the strike would probably continue on Monday, and perhaps the rest of the week. We should not join the protesters, as it could be dangerous. We just have to sit tight, go on with our lives, and wait until everything blows over.
From all the students here that I have talked to, it seems like it is only a small portion of the population who believe in what they are striking for, so it is not like the entire campus is up in arms.
However, it is interesting that I am constantly asked if things like this happen in the United States, to which I always respond "no". This is usually met with some surprise, though I tell them that we pay a whole lot of money to go to school, so it is not usually cost effective to strike.
So for now I'm just hanging around, writing an 8 page paper on non-verbal cues used in Botswana, as well as trying to plan our spring break trip through South Africa.
I suppose this could actually count as something exciting which is happening in the life of Jeremy.

3 comments:

  1. this was a very exciting one. i had no idea all their schooling was govt funded, and i am glad to hear not everyone agrees with the protestors. nice sly filming. don't get in with the mob, then they'll call you in to do them 'favors'

    i will probably comment on all of your stuff, because i always liked when people commented on my blog in london. so yeah.

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  2. i will probably do my best to undermine molski's comments.

    it's the american way!

    also, your covert filming was excellent. i have been doing some guerrilla filming myself.

    well, not really guerrilla. i went to the zoo and filmed gorillas, which isn't quite the same.

    way cuter, though.

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  3. Additional Information:
    It appears that the retaking students were sent a letter last semester stating that Govt would still pay for their tuition, hence they returned to campus THIS Academic sem. Early on in this semester (which equates to the 11th hour) they were informed that the MoE had reneged on their earlier promise and wouldn't be paying. - ditto, strike.

    Apparently disciplinary action begins this week.

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