Why did four little children fail to return home alive from school on Wednesday? Why did they have to learn in a substandard school block that collapsed from not-so-heavy winds and steal their little short and innocent lives?
Just why? Why them? Why this school? Why this village? Why these families?
There are so many whys right now and it is hard to know why for now, but we can tell the story of what happened.
It was bitterly cold on Wednesday morning this week. The teacher had gone out to get chalk from the head teacher’s office.
While waiting for the teacher, two pupils thought of getting a few minutes in the sun.
One second they were leaning against the wall of their classroom, basking in the morning sun; the next moment they were enveloped in the darkness of death.
The wall of their classroom block had just collapsed on them as whatever was the integrity of the structure—built by desperate communities to have their children learn under a roof, any roof in view of government neglect—succumbed to strong winds.
Two of the pupils that remained in the classroom also died, leaving scores of others injured, 17 of them seriously.
The tragedy has plunged a quiet community in Steven Village, Sub-Traditional Authority (Sub-T/A)Ngwelero in Mayaka—53 kilometres east of Zomba City—into a dungeon of despair for the loss of four lives and uncertainty about those nursing injuries in hospitals and at home.
From the mortuary at Zomba Central Hospital, to Nantchengwa Primary School in the district, The Nation witnessed a community united in grief as the dead children, lying in their coffins, were lifted from the ambulances and laid on desks for a ceremony that will be remembered for what a neglected education system can do not just to a country’s education standards, but also how it can steal innocent lives.
At the school yesterday, pupils and surrounding communities bade farewell to the departed four children.
They were two girls; namely, Tisunge Francisco, aged 12 years, Jennifer Bonongwe, 11; and two boys, Gift Mwanyada, 10 and Madalitso Nayuma, 10.
It was during the first period in the morning when tragedy struck.
The block, which used to be Standard 3B, was constructed by the school committee to supplement the shortage of classes at the school, which has 930 pupils.
Standard 3B and Standard 3A housed 116 pupils each.
At exactly 13:43 yesterday, an ambulance carrying the bodies arrived at the school where a ceremony was conducted before burial took place at each of the deceased’s home villages.
At the sight of the ambulance, relatives and fellow learners could not help, but burst into tears.
Elders too, especially relatives, lost control and cried freely as they inched towards the small coffins for a touch, just a touch, in a desperate farewell act to the little angels gone too soon.
“We just heard something falling. We didn’t know what it was, but when we got out, we saw that the building had fallen on the pupils. We were numb, we did not know what to do, but we still run to try and save the pupils,” explained Blazio Liviele, the school’s head teacher.
When both Liviele and other teachers approached the collapsed wall, two pupils were already confirmed dead.
Some of the injured pupils were taken to Ngwelero Health Centre where eight were treated as outpatients whereas others were taken to Mayaka Health Centre where 29 pupils were handled as outpatients.
As of Wednesday evening, 16 pupils—four boys and 12 girls—were admitted to Zomba Central Hospital.
However, another was admitted yesterday, bringing the number of those currently in hospital to 17.
The head teacher mourned the loss of brilliant pupils who never gave him trouble.
“They were all well behaved, they were intelligent in class. We never invited any of their parents to school for a disciplinary hearing, they were bright students,” mourned Liviele.
Speaking on behalf of the four families, Lucius Namanya expressed shock at the untimely deaths.
He said: “This is a big loss to us. This is untimely. We are so saddened by this and we cannot say much. However, we believe this will instil fear in fellow pupils. Some of these structures have to be considered. Some are life threatening as you can see.”
On his part, Minister of Education, Science and Technology Bright Msaka, who visited some of the pupils admitted to hospital, said his ministry would institute investigations to understand the situation further.