‘Catholic bishops in the country have assembled a team of four lawyers to challenge a case in which Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) wants its banned Chichewa Literature book back in the syllabus.
Taxpayers are at risk of shelling out K320 million to the writers’ body in compensation for financial losses following the withdrawal of Kusintha Maganizo ndi Nkhani Zina by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) last month.
Mawu lawyer, Kuleza Phokoso, has obtained a court order averting the moves to exclude and replace the controversial book as decreed by Justin Saidi, the principal secretary for secondary education.
Phokoso’s clients find it unreasonable for the ministry to withdraw the entire book because of one short story—Bridget Ching’umbu’s Mdalitso Wabodza—which the ministry deemed immoral, damaging to the Catholic Church and not appropriate for study purposes.
But the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) has weighed in to defend the interests of Catholics, who detest tell-all portrayals of sex, clandestine abortion and portrayals of hypocrisy among priests and nuns in the story.
In an interview, ECM secretary general Fr Henry Saindi confirmed that some Catholic legal minds are joining in.
“We are not necessarily going to challenge the case commenced by Mawu, but we want to join the Attorney General (AG) as an interested party because the book was withdrawn from the curriculum based on concerns which we officially submitted to the Ministry of Education. We feel it is right and just to be part of this case,” he said.
The legal team, comprising ECM lawyer Innocentia Atorbi as well as private practioners John-Gift Mwakhwawa, Wapona Kita and Noel Chalamanda, is part of a broader strategy
of the book on learners.to counter the imposition
Bishop Martin Mtumbuka, who heads the Catholic Education Commission in the country, told Nation on Sunday in an interview on Friday that ECM has a team of seasoned legal minds and educationists to come up with a position on the dispute.
He did not elaborate as the matter is in court and members of his task force were still on vacation.
But the lawyers have been tasked to gauge if the church has sufficient interest in the case and strategise how to work with the State, Nation on Sunday has learnt.
“Our job is to study, examine, scrutinise and appreciate whether it is in the interest of the church to be part of the litigation. We have to strategise and compile court paperwork to be filed soon after the festive season,” said Mwakhwawa.
The case brings into question the strictness and credibility of Malawi Institute of Education (MIE), which is mandated to source, vet and recommend books taught in schools.
MIE director William Susuwele Banda has apologised to the nation for not detecting some short stories which he termed “totally embarrassing” and “not fit to be taught to any learner”.
The book, published by Mawu and edited by its president Mike Sambalikagwa Mvona, mainly brings together works writers submitted for the annual short story competition sponsored by First Merchant Bank (FMB).
Civil Society Education Coalition executive director Benedicto Kondowe faulted MIE for being insensitive to Catholics who own a substantial number of schools.
According to court papers, Phokoso is of the view that government did not play its role well by not demanding amends before the book was printed.
Attorney General Charles Mhango yesterday said he is aware about the move being made by the Catholic bishops on the case.