BLANTYRE--The red t-shirts, the symbol for academic freedom struggle in Malawi following university lecturers eight-month-old standoff, were back in force in the university town of Zomba Monday.
Reason? Council for University of Malawi seems oblivious of the sayings 'let bygones be bygones' or 'let sleeping dog lie'. New Malawi President Joyce Banda recently went to Chancellor College, the main campus of the University of Malawi, to placate the academia and students with "no interference" from any organ of state.
But Council has written the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union (CCASU) demanding 55 million Malawi kwacha to compensate students who lost resources during the standoff. Apparently, the students sued the University for the Compensation and Council wants to spread the cost.
Lecturers downed tools in February last year after former Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito summoned political scientist Blessings Chinsinga over his lecture which drew parallels between shortages of fuel and foreign exchange in Malawi and problems North Africans were facing leading to protests that toppled governments there.
A police informant reported Chinsinga to Mukhito who interrogated him. The move sparked off an eight-month gridlock with students at Chancellor College and the Polytechnic backing their lecturers. The lecturers demanded an unequivocal apology from Mukhito and assurances of academic freedom.
But the late President Bingu wa Mutharika, then Chancellor of the university, joined the fray, throwing his executive weight behind the chief of police whom he said was "the best IG ever".
"Mr. Mukhito will not apologise to anyone," the President famously said. "How can he apologise to lecturers teaching revolution?"
The lecturers and students closed ranks and the tug of war between Chancellor College and the Mutharika administration saw the college being closed, opened and closed again. Council decided to fire union leaders as a condition to re-open the college. But Pres Mutharika had to acquiesce when students booed him at a graduation ceremony when he derided the sulking lecturers.
"We thought it was all water under the bridge," new CCASU Secretary General Symon Chiziwa said Monday. "We were recollecting ourselves and now this."
Chiziwa was referring to Council demand for the compensation money from former CCASU president Dr. Jesse Kabwila-Kapasula, now on sabbatical.
"Lecturers are very, very angry," he said. "And to consider that we are administering exams, others are marking..."
The lecturers had an impromptu meeting on campus where they resolved to hold a peaceful demonstration.
"I'm again wearing my academic struggle t-shirt," a lecturer told MaraPost. "They are deliberately igniting things."
Chiziya didn’t rule out of the possibility of the lecturers going on the picket lines again.
---©2012 The Maravi Post. Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgment.