Hundreds of angry school pupils who took to the streets in the Malawi commercial capital, Blantyre, protesting delays by government in paying their teachers’ salaries said they want President Peter Mutharika to know that they are angry with the situation.
The pupils, aged between six and 12, organised themselves into an impromptu strike, pelting their classrooms and passing vehicles. Police say several classes had their window panes broken while at least 40 vehicles were smashed.
Police used fired rounds of teargas Wednesday to disperse the pupils.
Some teachers in public schools have not received their salaries since May and have since resorted to boycotting classes until they are paid.
The unusual strike action started from the Catholic Institute Primary School and, by word of mouth, moved to Dharap Primary School which incidentally is situated along the Presidential Drive towards President Peter Mutharika’s official Sanjika Palace barely a kilometre away.
Chanting ‘We’re not learning! We’re not learning!’ in Malawi lingua franca Chichewa, the pupils closed the road with tree branches, huge rocks and boulders.
“We want the president to know we are angry,” said Thoko, a 12-year-old student, who would not give her last name for fear of retribution. “He must pay our teachers so that we can go back to class.
President Mutharika, who was ironically away to the eastern city of Zomba conferring certificates, diplomas and degrees on graduating students from various constituent colleges of the University of Malawi, was scheduled to return to the palace Wednesday afternoon.
“Please tell Peter on our behalf to do his best to pay our teachers so that they resume teaching us,” said 11-year-old Vera, who also refused to give her last name. “We also want to be leaders in future. They should not kill our future.”
Standard (Grade) 8 pupils are about to sit for their Primary School Leaving Certificate Examinations.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, at least 6, 600 teachers have not seen the pay cheque since May. The ministry’s spokesman Manfred Ndovi confirmed the development.
“Of the 10,000 teachers recruited by our ministry in May, we managed to put about 2, 800 on the pay-roll by September,” he said.
Ndovi said 9, 400 teachers reported for duty by September and they were supposed to get their salaries as soon as they were recruited, but the process of putting them on pay-roll was ‘very cumbersome’.
“We have been let down by the process as it involves district offices, the Treasury, the Department of Human Resource and our ministry,” he explained.
But even some long-serving teachers have been affected by the salary delays which observers put down to government being broke as a result of ‘cashgate’, the systematic plunder of government money where businessmen and politician skimmed millions of dollars in the government payment system in payments for ‘ghost’ goods and services rendered to government.
According to an audit by the British audit firm, Baker Tilly, at least US $30m was lost in the scandal which led to Western donor nations and agencies, who bank-roll 40 percent of the impoverished southern African country’s national budget, freezing budgetary support.
At least 70 people are currently in court answer corruption, fraud and money laundering charges.
Several government departments are running at barely a quarter of their monthly budgets, according to published media reports.
“We are demanding salaries failing which we won’t go back to class,” said a teacher in Blantyre.
Some teachers that have received their salaries have joined the strike in solidarity.–Associated PressFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :