Police tear gas pupils protesting in Malawi

Since July 20 when police shot dead 20 people to quell protests against the Mutharika administration last year, clashes with police have become a common occurrence in Malawi.

But the tear-gassing of primary school pupils by police on Wednesday morning was exceptional. It showed how far police is willing to go to clamp down on any protests and reflected how much anger is out there, even in young boys and girls.

The source of the problem was the failure by government to address the teacher to pupil ratio at Ngwenya Primary School, found in one of Lilongwe’s poor areas. The school only has 111 teachers against 8,000 pupils.

The school committee said  government has been failing to address the problem despite pleas from  teachers to have their pay increased as compensation for the double shifts they have to put in to teach every child.  But nothing positive has come up.

So in anger, the teachers on Wednesday decided to chase some pupils from classes and left only 60 for each class.

This riled the young boys and girls, who took to the streets, breaking the headmasters’ house and class windows and chanting anti-government songs, said Elijah Botha, Chairperson of the School Management Committee.

They even blocked the roads leading to the school stoning vehicles until police were called in to quell the situation.

The Ministry’s spokesperson Lindiwe Chide said it was aware about the plight of the Teachers at the primary school but said the case was not isolated as several schools are facing the same problems.

“The matter is still under discussion as it affects several requests. I would plead with them to wait for feedback as we only got their request in December. We are trying to reduce the sizes of classes that teachers can manage including introduction of double shifts,” said Chide.

Central Region Police spokesperson John Namalenga said Police managed to disperse the irate pupils without any injuries and said they were still patrolling the area as authorities engage in discussion to find a solution to the problem.