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Darkest hour, storm in a cup

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Tuesday, January 12 2021 will go down as the darkest day, as far as the devastating impact of Covid-19 is concerned, with the death of two Cabinet ministers within eight hours.

We woke up to news of the death of Local Government Minister Lingson Belekanyama on Tuesday but, before we could fully digest it, Sidik Mia also passed on a few hours later, both succumbing to the disease

It was, indeed, a terrible day and the question that came to mind was: What has hit us, as a country, to suffer such dire consequences to the disease?

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Malawi Congress Party (MCP), and the nation at large, will miss the two ministers and President Lazarus Chakwera rightly described the loss as “incalculable”. The two have left a void difficult to fill up.

Mia liked to present himself to his supporters as the Mbuya, the giant of the Shire Valley in the footsteps of political greats such as the late Gwanda Chakuamba and, as MCP first vice president, he provided the much needed balance that the party badly needs to avoid the tag that it is, after all, a regional party and not a national one.

Belekanyama, on the other hand, was the bastion of loyalty and institutional memory, serving MCP as it battled in the political wildness to bounce back to power after a good 26 years in the opposition.

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The cruel disease, that is spreading like bush fire, has robbed the nation of two political giants.

The spotlight is inevitably on our health infrastructure and the questions are bound to be asked on whether it will cope with this huge burden at a time every citizen is frightened and scared to death.

Other pinpointing questions would be where are we getting it wrong? Do we require a total lockdown, closure of schools and bars where groups are gathering?

Do we know the full extent and characteristics of this disease or are we fighting an unseen enemy while in the dark?

Clearly, cases of infections have spiked, with health officials recording 452 and 591 cases on Monday and Wednesday, respectively.

By far, these are the highest figures ever recorded, even when compared with the number of those that tested positive and died in the July peak. What with the number of deaths also on the upward spiral this week!

The President addressed the nation on Tuesday and we, as citizens, expected a reassuring and motivating speech to lift us up at a time we were scared to death (literally).

He, instead, declared a state of disaster as a prelude to the declaration of a State of Emergency, which is what we probably need at this point.

As I was writing this, members of the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 were meeting to consider more measures in line with the President’s speech.

We certainly need them tightened to fight the pandemic.

Yet, when everything is said and done, life must go on and we must take care of ourselves and discuss other emerging issues such as the recent results of Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE) examinations and selection of students to secondary schools which has also caused a storm lately.

If you ask me, this is just a storm in a tea cup that some Malawians, both home and abroad, love to brew time and again over public matters to get the necessary attention.

Look, the Ministry of Education has said merit was the major determinant of selecting students to secondary schools and that the cut-off point for selecting boys into national secondary schools was 380 marks while that of selecting girls was 354 out of 500.

The ministry has added, to a good measure, that, here and there, the necessary affirmative action was needed to push up girls and the disadvantaged to access secondary education services.

I call it a storm in a cup of tea because the issue I see here, one we must all get worried with, is not about selection but rather the fact that there are fewer secondary schools to accommodate all candidates that pass PSLCE and not regional imbalances in the selection.

All the national secondary schools we are clamouring about— where we want only children from our regions to go— were built either before independence in 1964 or after independence by the late Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s MCP regime.

For the past 26 years, nothing tangible has happened and, yet, here we are, still quarrelling about places in national secondary schools for children coming from our regions.

The result is that 140,000 of our kids who passed PSLCE cannot go to secondary school.

The bottleneck is even harder when the fight cascades to public university places after secondary school.

The reality of the matter is that we, Malawians, are a pathetic lot.

What is so difficult to acknowledge and then accept that, no matter what method of selection we can adopt, one region will still do well against the others?

Clearly, all this hullabaloo is misplaced and is a result of tribalism, nepotism and regionalism that we seem to have difficulties to shed off.

Probably it is a way of dealing with some historical imbalances and false nuances that are, sadly, still determining our stand and interpretation of education matters today when they are no longer relevant and obtaining on the ground.

We need to change and move on from such bondage.

Let us change these attitudes and be more tolerant by stopping and wallowing in unbridled pride about our regions for nothing.

Part of the problem is also my profession, media, where we give the platform to characters that sensationalise these things.

Such characters form wild and vile opinions that misrepresent issues before they even look at

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