Friday, February 22, 2013

Malawi School Pupils Denounce President Joyce Banda

Malawi school pupils denounce Banda

Thursday, 21 February 2013 21:48

BLANTYRE. — Business came to a standstill in the central business district of commercial capital Blantyre yesterday morning when school kids from different primary schools in the city took to the streets singing anti-Joyce Banda songs. Clad in their school uniforms, the children were running in the streets causing traffic jams while singing that “Mayi achoke!” and “Tikhoza bwanji mayeso tisakuphunzira”.

The children marched to Sanjika Palace just minutes after President Joyce Banda left the country for Equitorial Gunea for the third Africa-South America summit.

People watched as the pupils pulled down tree branches with others lying flat on their tummies on the road causing vehicles to stop.

Police in full riot gear were seen coming from Mount Soche Hotel looking for the kids, who by this time had already taken the route to Sanjika Palace and they were jeered by on lookers.

“Do they want to teargas these little kids honestly? This is very embarrassing because you cannot say that these kids have been sent by politicians to demonstrate. I wonder how these policemen will handle this situation,” wondered one onlooker.

“The sad thing is that the President has left the country without sorting out this mess. If kids like this are demonstrating against you, just know that things are not going on well.

This is very embarrassing!” added another on looker.

Surprisingly vendors and other older people did not join in the demonstrations, probably flabbergasted that even kids are aware that all is not well in the country.

Civil servants who include teachers are staging a strike demanding better pay and good working conditions.

In Lilongwe, police had to use teargas to disperse the pupils who took to the streets.

And on Wednesday, the irate pupils stoned school buildings belonging to the President Banda Foundation in protest against public teachers’ boycott of classes.

The police had to intervene and block gates as pupils from Chimwankhunda and Zingwangwa primary schools stoned Joyce Banda Foundation School buildings, chanting that they wanted equal education in public and private schools.

Teachers in public schools in Malawi joined the civil servants strike on Monday, demanding a 67 percent pay hike.

According to a group of pupils, who were protesting, their teachers abandoned classes almost a week ago and they were tired of not learning.

In a related development, all airports in Malawi have been forced to shut down following the wage strike by civil servants.

Both domestic and international flights were cancelled, said the BBC’s Raphael Tenthani in the main city, Blantyre.

Passengers flying on South African Airways (SAA), Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines were stranded on Wednesday, he added.

The indefinite strike, affecting nearly all government departments, is the biggest since Mrs Joyce Banda became president last year.

Most of Malawi’s estimated 120 000 civil servants — including teachers and immigration officers — are on strike demanding wage increases to counter the rising cost of living, our correspondent says.

Workers complain that since the government devalued the local currency, the kwacha, by 49 percent in May last year, their incomes have been badly affected.

Yesterday, Finance Minister Ken Lipenga said the government could not afford to increase wage costs, Reuters news agency reported.

Trade unions are demanding a 65 percent wage increase, about double the inflation rate, it said.

“Currently our wage bill is 97 billion kwacha (US$277 million), and if we agree to their demands, this will almost triple to 276 billion kwacha, which is equivalent to the whole national budget,” Mr Lipenga was quoted as saying.

The strike started last week, but it has since escalated. Nurses and doctors have also threatened to join the strike.

Workers held protests, chanting anti-government slogans such as “Joyce Banda, in 2014 you are not going to see my vote”, said the BBC report.

It will be the first election Mrs Banda will contest since she took power following the unexpected death of her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, in April 2012.

The latter part of Mutharika’s rule was marred by widespread protests about the rising cost of living and fuel shortages.

An AFP report says police later used tear gas to disperse the marching primary school pupils.

“Police fired tear gas to bring peace,” Nicholas Gondwa told AFP.

The police said the they were forced to fire tear gas at the protest because it had been hijacked by hooligans.

“Criminals took advantage of the demonstrations by the pupils and broke into a filling station shop and looted goods,” he said.

Gondwa said the pupils waved tree branches and blocked roads with boulders.

Derek Phiri, a 13-year-old pupil at Blantyre Boys near Ndirande, the country’s largest shantytown, said the children were “simply holding a peaceful march to send a message to the president that she must resolve the strike by the civil servants because it affects us as well.”

Tear gas was also fired at a group of children from five schools earlier when they tried to march to the presidential palace in the administrative capital Lilongwe, witnesses said.— Nyasa Times/

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