Sorry for the delay in updating the blog, things have been rather hectic here, and I wanted to make sure this post was well thought out and complete.
At this point, I would like to begin to discuss some of the more serious issues I have encountered thus far in Botswana. As I continue to travel and see various things, I will display more of the beautiful land. But the meeting of the mind with the unknown is perhaps more intriguing, if only harder to express.
What is a country if not for its people? In the short time that I have been in Botswana, I am beginning to understand some things about the people of Botswana. There are three groups that I would like to discuss here: the sports fan, the student, and the sick.
Over the past couple of weeks some interesting events have taken place right here on the campus of the University of Botswana. In summary, the students began a protest that resulted in the cancellation of classes for one week as the administration determined how best to move forward and resolve the issues of unrest. But do students really have the power to cause a university-wide shut down? Let me take you back to my first discovery of the possibility of a strike.
Within the first week of my stay in the dorms, I had an interesting conversation with a local student. After a brief discussion about many things including politics in Botswana and the U.S., we parted ways for the night. Soon our paths crossed again and we began hanging out more frequently. He began to tell me about his anger with the new Vice Chancellor and all of the offenses he had committed against the students of the university. Despite my inherent skepticism, he proceeded to show me the ‘Memorandum’ or simply the ‘Memo’ that was released by the president of the Student Representative Council (SRC). These memos are posted around campus whenever there is any announcement to be made by an organization of the school, the topics are widely variable. This particular memo was one of the most impassioned letters I have ever read, addressed to the student body and spelling out the injustices of the Vice Chancellor, and calling the students to stand up and fight! After I had read the letter, my friend pressed me further, asking my opinion and if I agreed with the SRC president. I did my best to explain to him that it was hard for me to form an opinion based on such an emotional letter. At the time, I assumed this was an issue that would simply blow over with time. I did however find out that protests are not uncommon to this school, and sometimes can even result in violence. Only two years ago there were also campus-wide strikes where students were forced to participate under threat of violence.
One night, as some fellow students and I were returning to the dorms, we began to hear many voices singing and yelling. Soon a large group of students were convening at the pavilion in the center of the dormitory courtyard. Soon they were all singing a Setswana song in unison and waving branches adorned with bright green leaves. The group continued to sing and dance for several minutes, until finally the SRC president was raised above the crowd (on the shoulders of the student who had shown me the memo) and made a brief announcement. As he was lowered the group of students raced out of the courtyard and continued their march as quickly as they had come. The protests had officially begun!
Soon the protesters had recruited enough students to their cause to force classes to be disrupted. As soon as this happened, the university quickly decided to cancel classes in order to ensure the safety of all the students. In the meantime, the administration began to address the issues that caused the strike. Here is a summary of the problems addressed:
· The School of Medicine, which was only established in 2005 has yet to be accredited, and many faculty members were recently fired due to a lack of funding. The students are very upset with the administrations operation of this department.
· Supplementary examinations. The University of Botswana used to run on a year long system, and recently switched to semester based classes. The effects of this are still being felt. Particular classes are only held during one semester, this means that if a student fails a course that is necessary to move on in a degree track, the student must wait until the next year to retake the course. One possible relief of this problem is the introduction of supplementary exams. This would allow a student who fails to take a second test in order to try to raise his or her grade to passing. Supplementary exams were introduced last year, but were not sustained, and as a result there were record numbers of failing students last semester.
· 411 student bar. Currently the University has a student bar that is run on campus, where alcohol is sold legally. Because of the high prevalence of fights, sometimes resulting in serious injuries, the closure of this bar was up for consideration.
· Intervarsity games. Recently a partnership was formed between UB and the University of Lesotho and the University of Swaziland, in order to facilitate sporting activities known as intervarsity games. This allowed students to participate in competitions between these three schools. This was discontinued this semester due to the inability of the University of Lesotho or Swaziland to host the games.
After some of the protests resulted in property damage to the university, consisting mostly of broken windows, the members of the SRC were suspended from school, and several of the leaders of the protests were arrested. With a lack of leadership, and the fear of ruining their education, the protests have now subsided and students are returning to school. The administration, however, did promise to address the issues that caused the strike. While the fruits of these protests did not lead to immediate results, they no doubt opened the eyes of officials to the passion of the students to have a successful school.
In the midst of all this excitement on campus, the country of Botswana was also participating, for the first time in the Africa Cup of Nations. It was amazing to see the students and people of Botswana come together and support their team through dancing and singing, and by sporting the blue and black colors of the Zebras! Although, Botswana was eliminated in the first round of the tournament, watching the games in the midst of crowds of Batswana, with the wild cheering and the blasting of vuvuzelas, is an experience I will not soon forget. I find it interesting how sports have the power to bring a people together, even amidst dispute. The Botswana national team accomplished a feat this year that had not been done in its history. The exited atmosphere of the games and the demoralized spirits after the losses reminded me of the roller coaster of emotions one gets from being a Husker football fan. It is comforting to know that sports are one thing that are a nearly universal human experience.
I know I promised to talk about healthcare, but this post has gotten rather long, so I will continue into that discussion in my next post.