Violence reared its ugly head yesterday when what started as peaceful nationwide protests by teachers to push for the payment of their delayed December salaries degenerated into chaos and looting.
At least 5 000 teachers had not yet received their December salaries as of yesterday morning. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) says the affected teachers did not provide details of their national identity (ID) cards on time.
The teachers are among thousands of other civil servants who did not get paid in December as they allegedly failed to submit the ID details.
However, addressing a press briefing yesterday in Lilongwe, MoEST Principal Secretary (PS) Justin Saidi said over 7 000 teachers were paid yesterday.
During the protests in Karonga yesterday, suspected learners set ablaze the district commissioner’s (DC) makeshift office while at Mponela in Dowa, protesters looted shops, including a retail shoe outlet Bata shop.
This is the second Karonga DC’s office to be torched during protests in less than six months. The first was set ablaze during the anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations last July.
Karonga DC Paul Kalilombe said yesterday in an interview that the incident is a huge setback to the council as they were struggling to recover from the 2019 inferno.
“These kids came with their petition in the morning, but as we were trying to get answers from the Ministry of Education, some commotion ensued and they torched the offices. These [pupils] were infiltrated by some people who simply wanted to cause havoc, like they had planned everything.
“It is painful for us because after the fire last year, we got back-up files from Lilongwe, and we started purchasing some items to replace those that we lost, but now we are back to zero. It’s sad, and we just don’t know why some people do these things,” he said.
In Mzuzu, learners, who had been protesting since Tuesday, braved a heavy downpour yesterday and turned violent, blocking roads and pelting vehicles and buildings with stones and other objects.
Police later fired tear gas to disperse the irate learners, who ran for their dear lives.
One pupil fainted in the heat of the moment, but was immediately assisted by well-wishers.
During the fracas, business came to a standstill in some parts of the city as people were forced to close shops for fear of losing property.
Northern Region Police spokesperson Peter Kalaya said the police were still monitoring the situation to ensure that there is order.
He said: “In the Tuesday protests, seven motorists reported that their cars had been smashed by the pupils. Two pupils also suffered minor injuries as they tried to board vehicles. Our appeal is for parents and guardians to take charge of their children’s safety because it is not safe for them to go on the streets and hold protests.”
In Blantyre, however, learners were still learning with no sign of the strike in progress.
At the DC’s office—where teachers have been staging vigils since Monday—there was no teacher in sight yesterday.
Nevertheless, two teachers from Mayera Primary School in Chileka and Manja Primary School, who opted for anonymity, said they could not participate in the strike anymore as they were being restricted by respective senior teachers as well as head teachers.
The teachers claimed they have since communicated to Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) to help them since their rights are being infringed.
In an interview, TUM secretary general Charles Kumchenga, acknowledged the scenario and threatened to take to task any officer involved if such tendencies continue.
He said: “What we will do now is that we are going to mobilise the teachers and go demonstrate at the houses of the head teachers because that is not fair.
“Teachers are being infringed upon and they have to express their grievances.”
In most government schools in the Central Region, learning did not take place yesterday as pupils went helter skelter in their communities.
Most pupils, disappointed that they could not attend classes, demonstrated and chanted songs that urged the government to pay their teachers so that they could return to their classes.
However, the worst violent incidents happened at Mponela in Dowa where witnesses, including government officials, claimed that pupils’ protests were ‘hijacked’ by vendors and other community members.
The protesters blocked the M1 with rocks and burning tyres. From morning to about 4pm, traffic flow was paralysed as some protesters broke car windscreens.
It later turned into a looting spree with Mponela Admarc Depots targeted for its maize in the warehouse. But the warehouse guards foiled the attempt.
However, the protesters swept the Chipiku and Bata shops at the trading centre clean of the items they were selling.
In Lilongwe, DC Lawford Palani said although hundreds of teachers and their pupils converged at his office in protest, there were no incidents of violence.
“The TUM officials and other leaders stopped people who wanted to turn violent; they maintained that the protest should be peaceful. This was a commendable thing and the protesters chanted and danced around but they eventually went home without damaging any property,” he stated.
But addressing the press yesterday, MoEST PS Saidi said at least 7 167 teachers were paid their December salaries by close of business yesterday. However, the PS contradicted TUM who have been insisting that 5000 teachers were affected.
“We want to assure all civil servants that the payment process has been concluded and they can get their salaries from the commercial banks,” he said.
Saidi said the ministry issued a circular, requesting the teachers to submit their ID details so that they can be cleared by the payment system. He further said what was delaying the salaries was the verification process which the ministry was conducting on the teachers.