By Jameson Chauluka, Feston Malekezo & Joseph Luhanga:
Classes were suspended indefinitely Monday in most schools across the country as teachers started a nationwide strike demanding their salaries for December 2019 after being skipped on payroll.
Teachers Union of Malawi (Tum) has organised the strike after some 5,000 teachers, drawn from primary, secondary schools and teachers training colleges, downed their chalk.
The government claims that the teachers were not paid last month because they did not submit their national identity cards (ID) details to Capital Hill.
In Lilongwe, the disgruntled teachers assembled at Lilongwe District Council offices.
Tum Secretary General, Charles Kumchenga, said if the government fails to pay the teachers by today, the demonstrations will move to Capital Hill.
“Our aim is not to hear anything from the government side, but to ensure that teachers have been paid. The government has been promising to pay teachers but all the promises have been in vain.
So this time the teachers have gathered here at the district office to force the government to pay the money immediately,” he said.
The strike comes days after the government promised to ensure that the teachers are paid by today saying all of them had submitted their ID particulars.
One of the teachers, Chipililo Lunyengo, said: “We will continue to demonstrate because we are suffering.”
In Blantyre, teachers taught in some schools while others did not. The Daily Times visited primary and secondary schools such as Kachere, Namalimwe, Chichiri, Limbe and Kanjedza.
One of the learners at Kanjedza Primary School said the sit-in would affect her performance in examinations.
“Since morning, we have not learnt anything. We were only asking each other questions from things we learnt. The teachers say they will not teach us until they are all paid. I am worried because examinations are around the corner,” she said.
Coincidently, shops remained closed in Limbe as indigenous workers in the shops of the Indian community engaged in a strike to force their bosses to improve their welfare.
One of the workers, who declined to be mentioned, said they are being paid as low as K4, 000 per week which translates to K16, 000 per month.
“We want them to increase our salaries. How can a person with a family survive like that? They do not do anything even when we are bereaved,” he said.
In Mzuzu, the teachers chanted songs along Mzuzu dual carriage way to Malawi Post Office, where they agreed to start with a sit-in followed by demonstrations from tomorrow.
A visit at Kawuwa Primary School in Mzuzu yesterday morning found few learners at the institution playing.
A standard three learner at Kawuwa, said their teachers told them that classes had been suspended until further notice.
A letter from Tum to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology dated January 17 2020 indicates that they have established that almost all those teachers and lecturers presented the said IDs to relevant authorities and; “perhaps they got lost in the hands of government officials.”
In Mangochi District, teachers and learners from primary and secondary schools took to the streets demanding their December salaries.
After their demonstration, the teachers stormed District Commissioner (DC) office where they have started a three-day vigil.
Mangochi DC, Moses Chimphepo, told the teachers that his office had received funding from Treasury to pay teachers’ December salaries for the teachers.
“We are processing the vouchers through the Ifmis [Integrated Financial Management System]. The voucher has been prepared and we are waiting for the government to approve it in the Ifmis so that we can write a cheque to cash. You will be paid cash and not through the bank as we usually do,” Chimphepo said.
His response did not please the teachers who continued chanting songs of displeasure. After some time, Chimphepo left the teachers at the entrance to the DC complex.
Tum Mangochi Chapter president, Symon Maziya, said they want the government to pay the affected teachers quickly.
“If our colleagues will not be paid by Wednesday, we will take the vigil to Capital Hill from Thursday until the day the money will be paid. We love our job and we want to go back to work. But we cannot go back to work when our colleagues are starving,” Maziya said.
The situation was no different in Zomba where classes were suspended in most schools as teachers joined the sit-in.
Tum Zomba Urban Chapter Chairperson, Charles Singano, said they would adhere to District Education Manager (Dem)’s promise that the teachers would receive the salaries today.
“Failure to do so will lead us to drive gear two. This is when we are going to continue with the protests,” Singano said.
Zomba Urban Dem, James Kamphonje, told the teachers to disperse from the DC’s Office but the teachers were reluctant to do so.
In Dedza, some concerned primary school learners took to the streets in solidarity with their teachers and presented a petition at the District Education Office.
Tum Chairperson for Dedza, Levi Wande, said teachers were concerned that the government was failing to pay them, claiming that some of them are owed arrears dating back to 2010.
A standard seven pupil at Dedza Government Primary School, said she took part in the demonstration in solidarity with the teachers.
“We are on the streets today in solidarity with our teachers who have not yet been paid. They are failing to concentrate as they also have bills to pay. Another reason is that we pay school funds but we have not seen any improvements at our school,” she said.—Additional Reporting by Jarson Malowa, Imam Wali