Public primary school pupils in Blantyre City, Ntcheu and Balaka yesterday took to the streets to protest against their teachers’ continued strike over delayed payment of leave grants and other outstanding grievances.
The pupils blocked roads, including the M1 Road stretch between Chingeni in Balaka and Bawi in Ntcheu.
In Ntcheu, police arrested 23 people, including nine students, in the course of the protests that turned violent as some threw missiles and blocked the Blantyre-Lilongwe Road, according to Ntcheu Police Station officer-in-charge John Nkhoma.
He said some of the protesters blocked the road and were demanding money from passers-by, mostly motorists, ostensibly to pay their teachers’ leave grants.
Said Nkhoma: “They were demanding K1 000 from people to give their teachers to start teaching. We arrested nine students and 14 locals. They are in custody and they will be charged with conduct likely to cause breach of peace.”
But Nkhoma said the police did not use tear gas or beat the protesters to keep order in Ntcheu.
In Blantyre City, the primary school pupils organised themselves to march to the district education manager (DEM) to present their grievances but were stopped in transit by police.
Witnesses said police in Blantyre used tear gas to disperse the pupils near Henry Henderson Institute (HHI).
Blantyre Police spokesperson Elizabeth Divala confirmed in an interview that police threw tear gas canisters at the pupils, but said no protester was beaten up.
She added that no property was damaged in the fracas.
Said Divala: “These pupils were stoning cars and blocking the road. In addition, they had no authorisation from Blantyre City Council [BCC] to march to the DEM’s offices. To keep order, we had to quell the protest.”
In a separate interview, Blantyre DEM Evelyn Njima said the pupils were headed for her office but she advised the police to stop them for their safety.
Her counterparts in Ntcheu and Balaka, however, feigned ignorance on the protests by students in their districts.
George Ngaiyaye, DEM for Ntcheu, told The Nation that he did not know anything about students protesting over teachers’ strike.
He said: “I have not received any report, but what I know is that teachers in Ntcheu and the rest of the country are on a sit-in.”
On his part, Balaka DEM Davie Mserebo said that he instructed his team to walk along the M1 Road to see if there were any protesters, but they found none.
“They went to places like Manjawira and Chingeni but could not find any student protesting. However, teachers in Balaka, just as their counterparts elsewhere, are on sit-in,” he said.
According to Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the management of teachers’ leave grants is now under district councils under the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development following decentralisation.
But Blantyre district commissioner (DC) Bennet Nkasala, when asked about teachers’ funds, said his office does not handle money.
He said: “We only process paperwork. This paperwork is then sent to Treasury to effect transfers of money into teachers’ personal bank accounts. And our paperwork is ready for submission to Treasury by tomorrow [today].”
Ntcheu DC Smart Gwedemula and his Balaka counterpar Rodrick Mateawuma said they had already completed the paperwork and submitted to Treasury.
Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe told Parliament yesterday that Treasury has processed teachers’ leave grants for 21 districts and that funds were expected to be remitted by close of business yesterday (see story under the headline ‘21 districts leave grants ready—Goodall’).
The teachers’ strike, however, has drawn criticism from some organisations in the country, including Eye for the Child which has asked Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) to end their strike and negotiate with government.
Maxwell Matewere, executive director for Eye of the Child, yesterday pleaded with TUM to go to a round-table with government for the sake of the pupils.
However, TUM president Willie Malimba said the strike will continue if government will not give the teachers their leave grants.
Responding to Eye of the Child’s appeal, the TUM president said that if government calls them to a round table, they will go.