Management at The Polytechnic, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, on Tuesday gave students up to 6pm to leave the campus after their protest over security breakdown turned ugly and left a hostel in flames.
In a memorandum to students, the college’s acting registrar Yamikani Chilinde said management resolved to close the college due to the fire that destroyed the multi-storey Nyika Hostel, a hall of residence for male students.
Witnesses said the fire started around 1pm in the thick of running battles between first-year students and police who fired tear gas canisters to disperse students who blocked the Masauko Chipembere Highway from Kamuzu Stadium Roundabout to Ginnery Corner.
The students, mostly from the college’s hostels at Chichiri, were protesting against what they described as a “rise in cases of attacks and theft of property belonging to first year students”.
Police entered The Polytechnic main campus, firing tear gas canisters to disperse students in hostels.
During a spot-check around 2pm, fire had already damaged half of the third floor of Nyika Hostel. About 126 students have been left destitute.
Desperate students were seen removing their property from part of the hostel which was not affected by fire then. Some could not help, but shed tears as they saw their rooms burn with their belongings.
In an interview last evening, Polytechnic dean of students Luciano Ndalama confirmed that 126 students have been affected by the fire which has destroyed 63 rooms which accommodate two students each.
He said: “Out of 252 students in that hostel, 126 have been affected and all their properties have been burnt. No one has been injured. As an institution, we are making arrangement to assist all the students who have been affected.”
Ndalama expressed disappointment with how police and Blantyre City Council (BCC) fire brigade handled the situation. He alleged that the fire brigade refused to help them put out the fire.
When contacted, Blantyre Police Station deputy spokesperson Dorah Chathyoka said investigators were underway to establish the cause of the fire.
“There are many possible causes of fire, so we are waiting for reports from both fire department and our investigation team,” she said.
Some students and a security guard at the scene claimed that the fire started after police fired tear gas canisters, which landed on the ceiling.
Daniel Goodnews Moyo, a second year engineering student whose room was also burnt to ashes, said they have lost all their belongings, including academic materials.