University of Malawi Council made announcement that it has hiked fees for all the constituent colleges of University of Malawi. Calls to hold General Assemblies emerged from almost all the UNIMA colleges. Students agreed to have peaceful demonstration to force the council rescind its decision while some students refused demonstrations from the beginning especially those in final years for fear of being disturbed.
Division started within Student Unions and so were the students. Some thought the best was to go in the streets while some thought the best is to have round table discussions with the relevant authorities. Suggestions were pouring in, some opted that they had to gather at University Offices in Zomba for a vigil, boycott classes until their demands are met. This was commendable and a good move as the students had to make sure that their voice is heard. The parents and relations to the students were of the same view that the hiking of the fees was not reasonable taking to account the current cost of living.
However, taking into consideration the events that have taken place since students wanted to demonstrate against fees hike, something is not adding up. Let me begin with Chancellor College. the students under their umbrella body University Of Malawi Students Union (UMSU) presented their request to the District Commissioner of Zomba and other relevant authorities to hold vigils in Zomba. I am told their request was turned down for whatsoever reasons that are better known to those who made the decision. As soon as that request was turned down, Chancellor College, an independent entity sanctioned illegal demonstrations.
There is enough evidence that the students vandalized some cars, property on the campus and they had beaten up a police officer on duty, grabbed a gun from him and run away. It is believed that some students had petrol bombs and teargas canisters. The songs which were sang, the likes of “tinapha Bingu ndiife” leave a lot to be desired. One tends to wonder of what the connection was there between the death of Late President Bingu wa Mutharika and the fees hike.
Being someone who has also walked in the corridors of University of Malawi, I expected the learned Chancellor College students to come up with strong grounds why they are against the fees hike and not causing trouble in Zomba to the extent of blocking the visiting US Vice President’s wife.
At the end because of security reason the Chancellor College management decided to close the school. It is not yet known when it will open. After everything that happened, the students are the ones who lost as their future now is in limbo and their studies have been affected, whatsoever they wanted to achieve with their demonstrations has not been achieved.
Now let us look at the other college under the UNIMA, the Polytechnic campus in Blantyre. While their friends in Zomba were demonstrating, these guys were busy writing examination. Even though some of their friends wanted to deal with the leadership of Polytechnic Students Union (PSU) for not coming out in the open on their stand to do with demonstrations, memos started to circulate on campus from unknown concerned students calling for demonstrations. It is on record that students from Chancellor College were invited by their friends in Blantyre to take part in the demonstrations.
When the examinations were through, instead of leaving their campus peacefully or taking proper channels to address the issue of fees hike, the polytechnic students turned nasty. They burnt tires in the Chipembere Highway, smashed peoples car, shops and some innocent people were harassed by the students. There it ended. The students never addressed their concerns apart from behaving like savages.
As I write, I hear some Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN) students have joined the bandwagon. Last night they were planning how they had to make sure that the police is provoked so that there should be running battles. Some students openly declared to have been looking for petrol, the purpose of which remains a mystery.
Just as their friends in the two colleges of Chanco and Poly, they chose to take a wrong path, they did nothing to make sure that all steps are followed to demonstrate. They boycotted classes, went to the entry of Kamuzu Central Hospital and blocking access of people to the health facility. Like seriously? What does that have to do with the issue of fees hiking? Are you telling me innocent Malawians should suffer and fail to receive medical attention because the University Council has raised fees? This does not make any sense. These learned students were supposed to know that running battles with the police, damaging property, burning tires and blocking people from Kamuzu Central will not help them deal with the issue of lowering the fees hike. The best to be done was come up with concrete grounds why they think fees must fall and not putting business to a standstill.
Putting to account of the scenario which have taken place in the three UNIMA colleges so far, something is not adding up. At the end of each demo are the students happy to have addressed their problems and given reasons enough why they feel their fees must not be hiked just like that? Your guess is as good as mine. Nothing is being addressed and when their colleges open again, they will start same stories because given the opportunity, they have failed to utilize it to their advantage.
This issue of fees being hiked and the calls to have it either maintained as it is or hiked with a small percentage needs to be treated with a sober mind else nothing tangible will come out from it.