Anger is the prevalent theme at Nantchengwa Primary School in Zomba District.
This has been the case since June 6 2018, when a classroom wall collapsed on learners, injuring 52 and killing four in the process.
Those that lost the fight for dear life include Madalitso Nayuma, Jenifer Bonongwe, Gift Mwanyada and Tisunge Francisco.
According to Wilson Bonongwe, father to one of the learners that died in the incident, bereaved members are angry because the government has been colouring people’s anger in different ways.
“One of the ways through which the government has been fanning our anger is by delaying our compensation package. This is happening when 49 other people whose children were affected by the incident have received their compensation packages. This is adding salt to an injury.
“We have been in touch with our lawyers at Legal Aid Bureau since the matter was brought to the government’s attention. When our colleagues received their compensation packages after hiring private practice lawyers, we asked our representatives at Legal Aid Bureau and the only thing they could tell us is that we must wait. To make matters worse, Legal Aid Bureau lawyers no longer pick our phone calls,” Bonongwe says.
Maybe it is not always that those who are unjustly treated get rewarded for, as they say, justice is sometimes not only blind, but deaf and dumb as well.
He does not understand why, three years after ramshackle structures collapsed on Nantchengwa Primary School learners, the education authorities have not made any move to compensate victims of the dead.
When the incident happened in the area of Sub Traditional Authority Ngwelero in Zomba District, Malawians were shocked at the turn of events, especially because children that had been sent to school to ‘create’ a brighter future had their future cut short.
Even Nantchengwa Primary School Deputy Head teacher Paul Henry Banda was shocked, indicating that the accident affected standard 3b learners in a ramshackle class that was accommodating 116 learners at the time.
At that time, teachers were administering classes behind the class for learners to fell warm in light of chilly weather conditions that were prevailing in the area.
“Teachers decided to teach learners outside the classroom so that the learners could enjoy the heat from the sun as chilly weather conditions had been persistent since Monday [that week],” he said.
Banda explained that while classes were still in progress heavy winds blew off the roof of the classroom which forced one of the walls to collapse, falling on the learners in the process.
Four learners died on the spot, and community members, who rushed to the scene after learning about the incident, could not do anything to save the four unfortunate learners, who were pronounced dead at Ngwelero Health Centre in the district.
In fact, the healthcare service facility was so overwhelmed that other learners were rushed to Mayaka Health Centre.
Ngwelero Health Centre is a government-owned facility while Mayaka belongs to Christian Health Association of Malawi.
Zomba Police Station Officer-in-Charge Hasten Mathankie, who confirmed the sad news that four learners had died, indicated that even Maya Health Centre itself was overwhelmed, such that 30 learners were referred to Zomba Central Hospital for treatment after sustaining injuries in the accident.
Apart from services that stakeholders rendered to the dead and injured learners— which included police officials writing a report of the accident, district health officials sending ambulances and Zomba District Council officials who mobilised other vehicles to the scene of the accident— now members of the dead children feel short-changed.
“People are playing tricks on us,” Bonongwe says, citing delays to compensate them.
The problem, says one of the community members Linily Bandazi, is that families of the four dead learners have been relying on the State machinery, notably Legal Aid Bureau, which has been “unnecessarily prolonging the affair instead of bringing the suffering of the affected families to an end”.
“We, as community members, feel that the government is being unfair on the families of the dead children. It does not make sense to be prolonging their pain. I believe they would like to forget about whatever happened but this cannot happen if the government makes them live and re-live the pain every year,” she says.
On Friday, community members held a commemoration service for the learners who died in the morning of their life at Nantchengwa Primary School, where there was an outpouring of grief.
Legal Aid Bureau Deputy Director Trouble Kalua told The Daily Times that he needed more time to come up with a concrete answer.
Ironically, the Ministry of Education did not want anything to do with the incident immediately after the four learners died in June 2018.
The ministry, in a statement released on June 17 and signed by the then Secretary for Education Justin Saidi, claimed that preliminary investigations into the accident indicated that the block was constructed by community members and not the ministry.
“We further regret to learn that the structure was constructed by the community and not the ministry. The School Improvement Grants resources that the community gets from the government and decides what to do with it [sic] was used to construct the structure,” the statement read.
The statement added that, following actualisation of decentralisation, the responsibility of constructing school blocks lies with local councils.
“Meanwhile, I appeal to district councils and communities to make use of standard designs and schedule of materials provided by both the Education Infrastructure Management Unit under the Ministry [of Education] and that of Buildings Department in constructing classrooms under community participation,” the statement added.
It is as if the ministry was adding insult to injury. Lack of outright answers has characterised the issue since that fateful day in June 2018.
And this means, in the absence of outright answers, community members are relying on people such as Zomba Thondwe parliamentarian Roseby Gadama, in whose area the incident occurred.
On Friday, she led her constituents in unveiling a tombstone at the accident site, after which wreaths were placed on the tombstone in memory of those innocent children.
“We have done this so that the school can continue to remember that four children died under unfortunate circumstances here. Hordes of learners were also injured in one of the incidents that Zomba people must never forget. The children did not die in vain.
“In fact, we have also constructed tombstones of the four at the graveyard where they were buried,” Gadama says.
She bemoans the government’s and other stakeholders’ failure to honour their words.
“It is sad that promises that the government and other stakeholders made are yet to be fulfilled. This is hurting bereaved families more. Everyone is seeking closure in all this,” she says.
Nantchengwa Primary School Head teacher Adam Diva says they will never forget what happened on June 6 2018.
“For your information, we have been holding memorial services every year on June 6. Since 2018, memorial services have become a permanent feature here,” Diva says.
Maybe the memorial services will bring a new consciousness to the Legal Aid Bureau and the government, who may end parents’ long wait for what is rightfully theirs: Compensation.