Concerned parents of Chancellor College (Chanco) students say it is disheartening to be forced to keep children close to seven months at home following the closure of the college.
Chanco concerned parents association chairperson Paul Chikwekwe said in a response to a questionnaire they are still pleading with authorities to act on the matter.
Chikwekwe disclosed that the association has booked an appointment with President Peter Mutharika, the University of Malawi Chancellor.
But Chikwekwe said they had a feeling the President is not officially aware of their plight and is waiting for the University Council to act.
“We want him to know our position and concerns. Economically, we are failing to plan. [The prolonged closure can also lead] to immoral behaviour among our children,” Chikwekwe said.
Zondani Ndovi, a distressed father whose first-year son was selected to the college in 2015, blamed the closure on leadership failure.
“As a parent, I feel very bad. I feel sorry for my son. He was selected to Chancellor College in 2015, and this is 2017 but he is still in his first year. When he should have been in college pursuing his tertiary education, he is home for over six months now. What a blow!
“When they opened in March before the strike, I had paid for his accommodation at a house he rents, the landlord did not refund that money, arguing it wasn’t his problem. Where is the leadership in all this? Where is our President for God’s sake?” Ndovi complained.
He said the nation was already experiencing a repeat of a record nine-month closure of the same Chanco in 2011 when lecturers were fighting for academic freedom during the administration of president the late Bingu wa Mutharika, and coincidentally, when his younger brother Peter, now the President, was Minister of Education.
Peter was then widely accused by the civil society, academia and other sectors of not acting on the issue.
Ndovi lamented: “Where are our parliamentarians in all this? The college has remained closed this long but I have not heard our parliamentarians discussing this issue seriously. Our education standards are already nose-diving; do we really care to salvage this?
State House press secretary Mgeme Kalilani, in a response to a WhatsApp questionnaire from Brussels where he accompanied President Mutharika, said he got information before they left Malawi that the letter by the Chanco concerned parents was delivered to Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC).
He said Mutharika was likely going to get it when he returns home, but he could not say if the President was going to grant the parents an audience.
A second-year theology student at Chanco, who opted not to be mentioned, said it was worrying that there was no sign of the college opening, adding the students are the grass in the adage “when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”.
She said it was worrying noone seems to care yet Chanco is a public university where cohorts have been clashing and there are always issues of inadequate space that limit selection of students into the public universities.
“As students, this is very painful and it is simply an understatement to say so. We can’t simply stomach this. It is heartbreaking to stay idle home due to a strike for one or two weeks, and what more with more than six months?” asked the theology student.
As students, she said, they have tried to hold street demonstrations to compel authorities open the college, but it has not helped.
More students interviewed on the matter shared the same agony, describing Malawi as a nation that cares little about its reputation.
Some students said it is hypocrisy of the highest order for Mutharika to undertake a trip to Europe and, among the activities there, address students union at Oxford University to inspire them when one of his colleges back home remains closed for close to seven months.
Unima registrar Benedicto Wokomaatani Malunga, when asked to shed more light on the developments and the way forward on the matter, said in a response to a questionnaire that the issue was in court and their lawyers were acting on it.
Meanwhile, delegates at the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) conference in Blantyre, which closed on Thursday, gave government two weeks to ensure that Chanco is opened. Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi, who is also government’s spokesperson, in an interview yesterday said government is doing everything to re-open Chanco.
However, Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Emmanuel Fabiano, a former Unima vice-chancellor himself, is on record to have told Parliament that the problem at Chanco was an issue for Ministry of Labour, and not his ministry.
During the recent strike by primary school teachers over leave grants, Fabiano in Parliament last week pushed the blame to Ministry of Finance and district councils who, he said, manage schools these days.