I am writing this article with a heavy heart, having received news to the effect that a friend of mine was robbed at his Manja home in Blantyre during the night. Thugs broke into his car and stole items including the car battery and, of all things, some Bibles. This is how my friend sighed: “My Malawi, my Manja!”
In Malawi, anything electronic is thieves’ hot target. In 2009, they broke into my bedroom at 2.30am. They knew I was around, but they were not bothered. They broke the glass panes, sheared the burglar bars like cheese and gained access to the room. In the meantime, I and the only other person in the house at the time, my high school-going son, had to take cover. They swept the bedroom of anything electronic—computers, hi-fi equipment, remote control units and anything they could lay their hands on. I fully understand my friend when he sighs, “My Malawi!”
In or around 1982, a British volunteer, a lady, was murdered at Chancellor College. She and a colleague were living in the Chaplain’s apartment outside Umodzi Hall of Residence. One night, two thieves broke into the apartment and attempted to steal a wireless set. The lady held on to the radio, not letting go of it, which annoyed the uninvited visitors. One of them reached out for his knife, plunged it into the lady’s chest and left in haste. By the time help arrived, the lady had breathed her last.
The following morning, the news reached the Head of State, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Deeply embarrassed by the diplomatic mishap, Kamuzu ordered that the police should put all their efforts into finding the perpetrator. They did.
It is frightening that some people are prepared to trade human life for something as cheap as a radio. The truth of the matter is that electronic gadgets are over-valued in Malawi. I want to submit in this article that this is so because we do not make these gadgets locally. As a result, they are both rare and expensive. When I went to primary school, we had a subject known as ‘Art and Craft’, which encouraged us to craft all kinds of items from locally found materials. I remember having once made a hat from maize cob covers. This was when I was in Standard Three. My teacher put on my hat on closing day, which made me feel so proud. I cannot imagine a situation where somebody would be driven to take the life of another individual over a hat crafted from maize cob covers.
Now, suppose our students had the ability to make radios or amplifiers or handsets, as part of their school work. Our communities would be awash with these items. Anybody wishing to have one would either make one themselves or ask a colleague to make one for them. Therefore, electronic gadgets would not, if I may postulate further, be hot targets for robbers. The murderers of the British lady mentioned above would not even have bothered to leave their home in the middle of the night, seeking to forcefully grab a radio from an innocent volunteer, ending up grabbing both the radio and her life.
As we search within our culture and our education system, let us institute ways of exposing our students to the process of manufacturing simple items. Let manufacturing permeate our communities so that electronic and other manufactured gadgets will look ordinary and will, therefore, not unduly attract the attention of thugs. Those that craft science curricula at every level should include competence in manufacturing. Those who deliver science courses at secondary school and higher levels should be well versed in the making of things and should give examples to their students of how things are made. Programmes such as “How It Is Made” aired on Discovery Home channel should be taken really seriously. We also used to have a programme called ‘Apanga bwanji?’ on MBC.
Thos e t h a t s h ow aptitude in making things should be given all the support they need. This support could be in the form of special recognition by an institution or indeed government, or monetary and other awards to help the individual advance in their project(s). In short, let the manufacturing culture proliferate in our country.
A Belgian friend of mine recently ran a guitar making course in Blantyre. He was targeting technical college tutors but the lot that turned up comprised carpentry students, whose command of English was next to zero. Half the time they did the wrong things. We need to ensure that only appropriately qualified students attend manufacturing courses. n