Police block Chanco vigil, students fault UNIMA on hotel talks

Police in eastern city of Zomba on Wednesday blocked students at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College (Chanco) from proceeding to University Office, located about two kilometres away, to hold their indefinite vigil to  aide at pressing the to reopen the institution for full classes.

The police stopped students who were escorted by lecturers and Civil Society Coalition for Quality Basic Education (CSCQBE) led by its executive director Benedicto Kondowe, from proceeding to University Office.

Students meanwhile faulted a communiqué from University Council inviting them to ‘an urgent meeting’ scheduled at Victoria Hotel Wednesday describing it as a ‘non-starter’ and ‘off-track’.

Loud and clear: Student banner. Pictures by Makhumbo R. Munthali/Nyasa Times
Chanco student holding placard at the vigil

The students made this resolve through an emergency General Assembly in the Great-Hall immediately after returning from the Vigil at UNIMA offices in Zomba on Tuesday in order to map the way forward on the question of whether their representatives should attend the said meeting or not.

Responding to the students’ petition, the University Council expressed its willingness to holding an urgent meeting with the representatives of the students’ body (SUCC) at Victoria Hotel.

“On behalf of the chairman of Council, I write to advance that the petition you wrote to him yesterday morning through the Vice Chancellor reached him,” reads part of the letter dated 23rd August, 2011, signed by University Registrar Benedicto Wokomaatani Malunga and addressed to the President of Students Union of Chancellor College [SUCC].

“This being the case, the chairman of Council would like to invite you and your executive members to an urgent meeting to be held at Victoria Hotel tomorrow (Wednesday) at 10:00am. You will hold this meeting with the Taskforce of Council on dialogue. The meeting will focus on your petition.”

While commenting on this invitation, the General Assembly spoke vehemently against the idea, describing it as a ‘non-starter’ and ‘off-track’.

Austin Misoya SUCC speakers aid the meeting with the students would be fruitless and a waste of resources if it ignored the attendance and participation of all key stakeholders involved in the stalemate like lecturers.

“The General assembly was of the view that every decision that would come out of this purported meeting would heavily rely for its effective implementation on the position or stance of our lecturers bearing in mind that as students we cannot force a lecturer to teach for these are issues to do with an employer and his employees. I t was therefore in view of the foregoing that any fruitful dialogue on the matter should incorporate lecturers as well for they are key to the ending of the stalemate,” said  Misoya.

SUCC President Patrick O’Phade Phiri further said that the General Assembly noted with great concern that the UNIMA Council had not yet responded to their petition in the manner the students anticipated.

“What we have received from UNIMA Council is not the response we expected. The expected response was ‘go back to class’”, bemoaned Phiri.

Concurring with Phiri, Misoya added that the General Assembly felt that “the fact that we penned them to provide solutions to our problem, the Council should make an effort to come to an understanding with lecturers and that they should come to us after they have resolved these issues.”

At the end of the debate, the students voted against attending the meeting. “We will go back to campus only if our grievances are addressed,” concluded Patrick Phiri.

Students discussing at Great Hall.

Meanwhile, the General Assembly has resolved that Chancellor College students will continue to hold peaceful vigil till their grievances are addressed by UNIMA Council.

“We will go back to campus only if, and I repeat, only if our grievances are addressed” stressed Phiri, a 3rd year Law student while drawing cheers from a jam-packed Great Hall.

The Chanco students have not been attending classes despite its reopening on July 4.

Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika who is also Chancellor of University of Malawi (Unima) closed Chanco and the Polytechnic, another Unima constituent college on April 1 after government and the academic staff disagreed over the question of academic freedom.

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