Written by RAPHAEL TENTHANI
However important the Africa-South America summit was, President Joyce Banda should not have flown to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, last Thursday. She behaved not dissimilar to Emperor Nero of old playing violin while Rome was burning.
Malawi was burning…quite literally. While civil aviation staff closed off the Malawi skies, school children from public schools went on the rampage disrupting classes at private schools, including Abiti’s own Joyce Banda Foundation.
They later – most likely joined by some miscreants in society – went wild breaking into - and looting – shops and smashing cars.
Surely this was no time for a leader to skip the borders. Although she was not necessarily personally haggling with the Eliah Kamphinda Bandas of this world, Abiti’s symbolic presence in the country was important. Symbolism is paramount in any social aspect of life, more so in politics.
Therefore, Mama Joyce’s decision to break bread with Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo while her country was on fire was ill-timed and ill-advised.
But, be that as it may, the Banda administration and the Civil Service Trade Union (CSTU) deserve congratulations for reaching a compromise before things went out of hand. Of course we could not have lost nine days of productive work had the Government Negotiating Team (GNT) took their CSTU counterparts a bit more seriously.
Obviously the strike, which was initially supposed to be a sit-in and then a go-slow and then a stay-away, has a lot of teaching and learning points.
For starters, the mere fact that organisers could not agree whether they were planning a sit-in, a go-slow, a stay-away - or indeed an outright strike - belies how shambolic organisation of the whole thing was.
Look, on Capital Hill – the seat of government itself – civil servants did not know what to do. While some heeded the clarion call, for the majority it was business as usual. It had to take physical persuasion two or three days into the strike before the strike was something close to universal in the capital.
Teachers, who form the bulk of the civil service, were also initially unsure whether to join the strike or not. While the leadership of the Teachers Union of Malawi were telling all and sundry that teachers were not party to it, some teachers unilaterally joined the strike.
Nurses, too, were equally divided. The nurses’ leadership was busy counting down the 14-day ultimatum they had given the government when some nurses joined the strike.
Government too has lessons of their own to learn from the strike. The GNT never took CSTU seriously from the beginning. They kept postponing, sometimes ignoring meetings.
When it saw that the union was serious about shutting down government business, GNT tried subterfuge. It put out a fake statement purportedly duly signed by both it and CSTU. This succeeded only in threatening to derail the whole process.
Having said all this, perhaps the most poignant part of the whole nine-day strike is the involvement of school kids. Wednesday and Thursday saw unprecedented scenes in Blantyre of little boys and girls in primary school uniforms either marching to the Joyce Banda Foundation in Chimwankhunda or Sanjika Palace.
This took everybody by surprise. The police did not know how to react. Most of these kids were little babies, some still smelling their mothers’ breast milk. How do you teargas such infants?
In the line of duty I interacted with some of these kids but their reasoning sounded suspiciously well-choreographed and well-rehearsed. Was some big hand behind these little babes?
Well, we know that today’s kids grow fast than we did in the good old ‘70s but surely an eight-year-old kid has no business chanting: “Amai, voti yanga 2014 simudzaiona!” Surely this kid will be a good nine years shy of voting come next year to threaten JB that she is not gonna see her vote!
You should have been with me among these kids. Some of their chants were too strong for ten-year-olds. It was beyond asking government to meet their teachers’ demands so that they go back to class. It was more political than anything else.
But are we so desperate for 2014 that we can sacrifice kids’ innocence for us to dislodge somebody out of State House? What future are we building for our country if we are poisoning young minds with political vitriol?
Malawi is not known as the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’ for nothing. We are classified as meek, yes, but our meekness made us stay away from armed conflict for a good 50 years. Do we have to now raise a breed of angry young men and women who will grow up with the notion that we can only solve our problems by destroying the little we have?
Look at what happened at Kudya, in Zingwangwa and Bangwe? I am told Area 25 in Lilongwe had similar scenes.
Blame Hastings Kamuzu Banda for everything else, but at least the old man raised us with a sense of respect for elders. The kids I encountered spewing epithets against the leadership of this country would make the Ngwazi turn in his mausoleum.
Some of us may abhor Joyce Banda’s handling of affairs of state but we do not need to use innocent children to beat her down. Look, some of these kids’ chants went like: “Ng’ombe Yaikazi Siikoka Ngolo’ (‘A Cow Cannot Pull a Cart”)
What are we inculcating in these kids? That “it’s a man’s world”? That women have no place in leadership? Are we suddenly vindicating one Noel Masangwi who, in his moment of zane, said Malawi was not ready for a female president?
This surely flies right in the face of the woman empowerment rhetoric – like the 50-50 campaign - for the little girls and boys I encountered on the streets of Blantyre last Wednesday and Thursday will grow up feeling women are second-class citizens.
Do we really need such a scenario as we try to chase our first female president out of State House? Joyce Banda may have her own shortfalls but let us fight our political fights as adults; let us spare the innocent children.