On Wednesday March 20, 2019, a 15-year old schoolboy drowned and lost dear life while swimming with friends at a village dam in Ha-Matsoake, Mazenod.
Together with his peers, Bahlakoana Paul Ntaote was supposed to be attending his classes at Bishop de Mazenod High School instead of “loitering”, but a crippling nationwide teachers’ strike that lasted six weeks, from mid-February to March end, was at its peak.
The intermittent industrial action has since only been suspended indefinitely, pending implementation of agreed terms between government and the educators in primary and high school levels.
The teachers are fighting for improved wages and better working conditions.
According to children’s rights activists and police reports, accidents and incidences of rape, underage pregnancies, early child marriage and child labour escalated during the strike “due to school children loitering”.
There were mixed feelings from speakers at the funeral of Ntaote, held at Ha Matsoake earlier this month. While some thought of his death as a coincidence, others blamed it on the teachers’ strike.
“If it wasn’t because of the teachers’ strike, Bahlakoana could have been at school and not at the dam at that time,” charged one of the family members, Tjotjo Raletšela. The dam was described as deep and unsecured by the villagers.
“If in the middle of the day we see school children roaming the streets and going to the tavern; that is very disappointing. One would want to know who should be held responsible for this kind of issues. They end up doing nasty things,” he added.
Speakers noted they had great expectations from Ntaote, who pursued his studies in Grade Eight before he met his untimely death.
“Bahlakoana had potential to grow up to be a responsible man, we never see him again,” said acting principal from Ngoatonyane Primary School, ’Mapontšeng Khahla.
Khahla commended Bahlakoana for his brightness during his primary school days, adding “I have no doubt he was still performing well in high school, and would still do better beyond the high school level. When I heard about his death many questions crossed my mind. I wanted to ask God why he took life of such a clever boy”.
The village councillor, Mohau Ntlamelle, shared similar sentiments, adding: “I’m appealing to government to resolve teachers’ issues once and for all. It is not appropriate for us to be keeping kids in our homes during school hours just because the government fails to do what’s right.”
The grieving Ntaote’s family said they had hoped he would grow up to be leader.
On February 18, the Lesotho Association for Teachers, Lesotho Teacher’s Trade Union and Lesotho School Principals Association joined hands and downed tools in what became a crippling nationwide strike.
The teachers, among others, demanded eight percent salary increase and implementation of new curriculum. Following a series of events and discussions that happened between the government and teachers unions, an agreement was signed on March 28. The agreement paved way for schools to be reopened on April 1.