Poly students demonstrate, petition Malawi Pres. Banda

Business came to a standstill in Blantyre city on Friday when Polytechnic students took to the streets protesting against University of Malawi Council’s decision to shoot down their demands on upkeep allowance increment and cutting-back of recently hiked tuition fees for mature and self-sponsored students.

The students marched through Chipembere Highway to the offices of District Commissioner for Blantyre, Atanasio Chibwana to hand in their petition to President Joyce Banda who is also the Chancellor of the University of Malawi.

Heavily armed police had to rush in their combat regalia and armoured vehicles to control the chanting students who, for once, demonstrated in a peaceful manner as there was no stone throwing, barricade mounting and tyre burning.

Initially, the students planned to march to Sanjika Palace to hand in their petition themselves but after a discussion with police, they changed their plan and delivered  the petition to the DC Chibwana instead.

Demo time; Poly students

Demo time; Poly students

Armed police mounted temporally roadblocks across the Blantyre town as they controlled the tension created by the noisy students who chanted songs all through, voicing out their frustrations for not getting their demands.

In the petition, handed to Chibwana by the students’ union president, Wakisa Simkonda, the scholars are demanding an increment on their monthly meal and upkeep allowance from K40, 000 to K60,000 per student, arguing the current allocation is not keeping pace with the economic situation Malawi is experiencing.

They are also demanding reduction of the yearly fees for mature and self-sponsored students, arguing the amount the college, a constituency of University of Malawi, is currently charging is excessive. Each student pays K250, 000 per year from K150, 000.

In an interview, Simkonda who addressed the students after handing in the petition to the DC, vowed to continue with their protests and absconding classes until their demands are met.

“Just yesterday (Thursday) the University Council told us they could not bow down to our demands. We first wrote the President in March and its ultimatum expires today, and there is no response. We hope this time around our concerns will be addressed accordingly. Otherwise, we will not attend classes until we get what we want,” Simkonda explained.

Simkonda added: “I don’t know what the authorities want us to do. Our demands are valid. The situation would have been the same if government was still handling our upkeep allowances. The cost of living is high, and based on the current economic situation. The monthly allowances are not enough to meet our basic needs”.

One of the placards the students carried read, “Njala Amayi. We cannot attend classes on an empty stomach. Give us the K24 000 (about $27) shortfall for food allowance.”

Reads the petition in part: “The Polytechnic Students Union would like to register its dissatisfaction with the way the University of Malawi Council, the Ministry of Education and the Malawi government in general is handling students’ problems. These problems are students’ living allowance and students’ tuition contribution for self-sponsored students.

“PSU, Your Excellency, therefore, seeks your intervention to the problems which were outlined to you on 17th April 2013 during the meeting which PSU had with you at Sanjika Palace in Blantyre and are again detailed below.

It says the students who are admitted under government sponsorship receive monthly subsistence and accommodation allowance of K40 000 (about $95) from which K7 240 (about $17) goes to hostel rental fee for those on campus and K12 500 (about $29) for those accommodated elsewhere.

“From this, it can be seen that students remain with K3 [about $78]2 760 and K27 500 [about $65] for meals, respectively. If we go by this, students are supposed to spend K1 056 [about $2.51) and K887. 09 [about $2] to cater for three meals a day,” it says.

Last year the students also protested demanding an increment in the allowances. In their proposal, the students wanted a residential scholar to be given K30, 000 while non-residential K40, 000 per month.

According to the students, the economic hardship has led to an upsurge in theft around the campus.

Last month President Joyce Banda after meeting with representatives of University Malawi promised to address the students’ concerns, and disclosed that she had formed a special committee to handle the issue.

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