Student leaders have said they will file an urgent application today to challenge a decision by the University of Botswana Council to ban party politics at the institution.
At a press conference in Gaborone yesterday, the University of Botswana Student Representative Council (UBSRC) said the ban was unconstitutional and violated the right to freedom of association.
Under the new dispensation, the UB Council wants a neutral student representation where SRC elections are not held along clearly demarcated political party lines as is currently the case.
But SRC secretary general, Motonto Motonto has said they will not sit back and let the UB management violate their constitutional rights. SRC president, Jacob Kelebeng, said he was disappointed by the council’s decision.
He blamed the council chairman for imposing unilateral and unpopular decisions on fellow council members. “We have noted that the council takes decisions based on emotions.
We need a proper documentation that explains how this policy is going to be implemented,” he said. to He added that the SRC is mandated to run elections how it deems it fit. Khumoekae Richard, a senior administrative officer in Gaborone Central constituency where UB falls said the decision of the UB Council is a violation of democratic rights.
“We are gravely concerned by the shrinking space of freedom as perpetuated by an influx of non-democratic laws and policies,” he said. He said banning partisan politics took away the rights of those who want to represent and to be represented under a party setup.
Richard added that the current arrangement allowed partisan or non-partisan representation in the SRC. Area MP, Phenyo Butale was not available for comment because he was away in South Africa. UB spokesperson, Mhitshane Reetsang said the council arrived at the controversial decision after realising that the SRC had become too partisan and serves selective political interests.
She explained that as an international institution, UB attracts both local and foreign learners and the partisan approach to students’ issues is non-inclusive. “There is need to go back to basics and realise why it is called the SRC.
This forum has the mandate of supporting students through addressing their challenges, but political party affiliation has led to a divided student voice,” she asserted. Reetsang said the ban is meant to strengthen students’ voices whenever critical issues on their welfare arise. “As a university, we felt that there was a disturbing external political inference on the running of the SRC, hence the decision to abolish partisan politics amongst our students.
But outside campus, students have the right to be involved in any political activity as per the freedom of association enshrined in the constitution,” she explained.
Reetsang did not spell out what actions UB would take to deal with those who engage in partisan politics at the university. She however said UB structures and relevant statutes would be invoked to deal with those who contravened the ban.
She said students have a right to go the legal route if they feel aggrieved. “We will cross the river when we get there,” she said about the looming court case. SRC elections are billed for next week Tuesday. The UB has threatened to ban party politics on campus since 2008.