Pupils from various primary schools in Blantyre, Ntcheu and Balaka this week have been demonstrating against the continued sit-in by their teachers who are demanding to be paid their leave grants and arrears.
In their anger, the pupils have been blocking roads and in some cases burning logs on the roads. But that is not out of the ordinary. They have learned this from their seniors. You have to sympathise with them.
The pupils are angry that they are not learning. They feel their right to education is being infringed upon. Their demands are for a good cause. It does not matter that the pupils may not have been following the procedures to hold demonstrations. They are children and we can forgive them for breaking a few rules in the book just as we forgive them when they break plates and cups and tumblers in the homes.
While it is regrettable that they have been inconveniencing motorists, and that some of the pupils have ended up spending nights in filthy and mosquito-infested police cells, we can’t really blame them for demanding their rights. They are children and just as we have all been like them at one time or another, we don’t expect them to know everything or much about what they are supposed to do to show their anger.
In addition, it is naïve and patronising on the part of government to conclude that the pupils are demonstrating because they are being encouraged by their teachers or parents to do so.
In Blantyre, police arrested two pupils while in Ntcheu they locked up nine pupils. The pupils have been charged with intentionally endangering the safety of persons travelling by road. Well, police can use any law in the book, but the fact is that these are minors. After arresting them, they should not have dumped them in the same cells where hardcore criminals are thrown when arrested.
While I don’t condone lawlessness, whether on the roads or anywhere else, and by whosoever, what is most regrettable is the manner the police are stopping the demonstrations. They are using teargas canisters to disperse the demonstrating pupils. This heavy-handedness is totally uncalled for. These are the same tools that the police use to stop demonstrations by adults. It is true that ignorance of the law is no defence, but these are children and is it not the same State which is supposed to teach them the law?
Government should have quickly moved in and sorted out the root cause of the demonstrations and not trivialise the problem on its lap. It is a shame that year-in, year-out, teachers have to fight for what rightfully belongs to them. As a result, they have learnt that the best way to force government to pay them what they deserve—little as it may be—is to withdraw their services.
Moreover, you cannot expect the teachers to be sympathetic to government when they see that some sectors in the same government are treated differently. Government is always indifferent to teachers’ plight and yet it expects them to give their best. How?
It is true that the resource envelope is small. But teachers are only demanding about K28 000 to K33 000. And this is peanuts when compared with what the government is spending on the hefty allowances and upkeep for members of Parliament on a daily basis. Teachers find it difficult to sympathise with government when they see it splurging largesse to some people from the same small resource envelope. On the whole, the lukewarm manner in which government is handling the teachers’ plight shows that it is being very insensitive to their plight.