I am a regular church goer. Last Sunday was no exception. The sermon was short and exceptional.
Our resident pastor asked the congregation to include Chancellor College (Chanco) in our prayers.
Why did Chanco deserve a slot in our prayers?
The constituent college of the University of Malawi has been closed down for a lengthy period, a crisis that has been recurring since the dawn of democracy in 1993.
In 1973, the college relocated from Blantyre to Zomba.
Over the years, the college has transformed the old capital from a seat of government centre to a university town.
The college has five faculties—humanities, science, law, social science and education—which enrol almost 5 000 learners.
Since its establishment, Chanco has produced graduates who have gone on to become leaders in various sectors.
Notable alumni include Vice-President Saulos Chilima, his predecessor Cassim Chilumpha, Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume, Reserve Bank of Malawi governor Dalitso Kabambe, his predecessor Charles Chuka and former Finance Ministers Ken Kandodo and Ken Lipenga.
These are just some of the brains that have gone a long way to shape what Malawi is today.
The political landscape of Malawi is what it is today, among other factors, because of Chanco.
During the one-party era, Chanco students took the lead by practising democracy through credible students’ union elections despite eavesdropping by ‘State agents’.
Like a foot soldier, Chanco took the battle for multiparty head on.
Following the restoration of democracy, things almost changed for the better for Chanco as closures seemed to be a thing of the past.
Few years later, the college was back on the front pages of tabloids for bad reasons as it became a norm for students to return to campus just to write examinations.
Closures became rampart and graduations fewer.
As some might recall, this crisis reached its peak in 2011, when police officers interrogated political science lecturer, Associate Professor Blessings Chinsinga, over an example he used in a lecture room.
Actually, the battle for academic freedom started on February 12 2011 when Chinsinga drew parallels between causes of protests in the Arab world and the feelings of Malawians when foreign currency and fuel problems hit the country.
As a show of solidarity, lecturers boycotted classes. The University Council dismissed four lecturers, including Chinsinga.
In the process, the college was closed for almost eight months.
As if the academic freedom saga was a mere appetiser, then came the ‘Fees Must Fall’ campaign.
The students’ protests to the hiking of fees led to yet another premature closure of the college in the shadow of Zomba Mountain.
When the college finally reopened for a new academic year, it was closed again few days later.
Since November 2016, lecturers and support staff have been on strike.
The workers have downed tools to force the council to iron out pay disparities with other constituent colleges.
They are demanding a 30 percent salary increase.
The unchecked ‘blackouts’ of Chanco, though insignificant to some people, have a huge consequence on students and parents.
It also affects the integrity of our education system. Chanco’s commitment to achieving sustainable social, economic and technological development in the country is becoming a mockery.
It has become apparent that we are sitting on a crisis, but it appears that a few realise this.
Several interventions have been tried—mediation, students’ demonstrations and petitions to the President—but it seems the crisis is not responding to medication.
Despite the debate over the autonomy of the university and its council, it is high time this crisis is tamed.
If indeed Chanco needs a prayer, then it should not just be from my congregation but all Malawians.
Go, go and mend Chanco! n