Hon Folks, if it were normal for kids to mount violent demonstrations, the world would have been better prepared for that; probably we’d have seen children-size handcuffs.
But children are just that, children, our God-given gift to bring up—feed, love, protect, shelter and counsel. By God’s design, all of us grown-ups have the parental duty to look after children and ensure they grow to become responsible adults, full of wisdom and virtue.
That’s why I consider unfortunate the narrative that captioned the sad images of primary school children, some young enough to still be wiping their nose with the back of their hand, mounting violent demonstrations in various parts of country, notably Blantyre, Ntcheu and Balaka.
Some folks described the kids as heroes, praising them for hitting hard and sooner at a broken system that kept them out of school for more than a week. Some social media wise men from the east threw in sarcasm, saying a week of mediocrity made the kids react unlike Chancellor College students who have been dormant six months into the closure of their college.
Disgruntled lecturers at the college and disgruntled teachers in schools dropped their tools, accusing the employer of short-changing them on salary or perks respectively.
Some criticism was trained on the police who at times “smoked out” the rioting kids with tear gas and handcuffs. People feared that some kids could get hurt or worse as they scampered for hideaways.
On the other hand, there were those who saw the violent demonstrations differently. They forgot it was children, not children of opposition party sympathisers. They said the demonstrations were illegal and politically-motivated. They said there was need to first notify or seek permission from the police.
In polarised Malawi, even children are used as pawns in the never-ending feud between the two sides of the political divide. This is madness and denying it only betrays the gravity of our sickness.
True, the kids ran amok and the Constitution doesn’t allow for the violence that characterised their demonstrations. But shouldn’t we worry more that they put their lives in danger because we failed them?
They wanted schools, interrupted by a strike by their teachers, to reopen so they could be in class and learn. Theirs was a legitimate concern. Education is their right and giving children quality education is our duty as parents.
The kids wouldn’t have taken the risks they took—being tear-gassed, assaulted, handcuffed and thrown into putrid police cells—if we had spoken on their behalf as responsible parents ought to. They fought our battles and all we did, in turn, was politicising their demonstrations, shame on us.
Government exacts taxes so it can provide education to our children. The teachers who were on strike are all its employees but the children who were denied education—the ultimate losers—are ours.
Regardless of whether our sympathies are with the ruling or opposition parties, the welfare of our children ought to be a bipartisan issue and any government messing with the future of our kids is crossing the red line. That’s the message government ought to hear from us, loudly and clearly.
If the government indeed had no money to pay the teachers their leave grant for last year, where had Goodall Gondwe suddenly got the money to pay them now?
Where did government get the money for hiring a jet to take APM to the United Kingdom (UK) to talk to few students at Oxford University when he left unattended a mess at Chancellor College? Isn’t the Chancellor of the University of Malawi to which Chanco is a constituent college?
For much too long we have watched indifferently as mediocre leadership led to the nose-diving of standards in public schools and colleges. On APM’s watch the standards have hit rock-bottom. In addition, the public education system itself has started showing signs of organ failure.
What will take for us Malawians to, in the parlance of APM himself, ”wake up and smell the coffee?”