Malawi: Government fires University of Malawi dons over academic freedom fight

Published on: Thursday, March 31st, 2011

By Emmanuel Muwamba – Council for the University of Malawi has fired three lecturers at Chancellor College, the main constituent college of University of Malawi who defied its directive to return to class.

The lecturers have been fighting for academic freedom following the summoning of their colleague by police boss, Peter Mukhito, over an example he gave in class when he likened the uprising in Egypt and Tunisia to the scarcity of fuel in Malawi.

The lecturers are demanding a guarantee of their academic freedom and want Mukhito to apologise over the incident.

Mukhito however has refused to apologise arguing that there is need to balance academic freedom and national security. President Bingu wa Mutharika has on several occasions stressed that Mukhito will not apologise.

The Council last week ordered the lecturers who have been boycotting classes for seven weeks now, to return to classes by March 24 or risk being fired. The lecturers reacted with defiance, saying they would not be intimidated and continued with their boycott.

On Wednesday, Council fired delivered termination letters to three lecturers.

Those fired include Chancellor College Academic Staff Union (CCASU) president, Dr. Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula who heads the English Department, Law lecturer Dr Garton Kamchezela and Franz Amin.

The fired lecturers however sought a court order at the High Court in Zomba in a rare late-night session. The court granted an injunction stopping Professor James Seyani, chairman of the Council and University Council from sacking the three lecturers.

Justice Godfrey Mwase granted the injunction at 11.30 pm (21.30 GMT) “restraining the University Council chairman, his agents and any other persons or officers assigned to or by you from enforcing the order”.

Last week, the lecturers also dragged the Professor Seyani to court for contempt of court proceedings. The Council had ordered the lecturers to return to class although there was already an injunction on the same.

The lecturers sought and obtained an injunction against President Bingu wa Mutharika’s earlier directive to return to class.

The class boycott started after Inspector General of Police Mukhito summoned Associate Professor of Political Science Blessings Chisinga over a lecture example.

 

Chinsinga had allegedly said crises like Malawi’s current fuel shortages could lead to insurrections like those that toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt.

Lecturers reacted by abandoning classes, demanding an apology and assurances of academic freedom from Mukhito.

President Mutharika, who is both the Chancellor of the University of Malawi and the Commander-in-Chief of the Malawi Police Service, threw his weight behind the police chief.

Meanwhile, police arrested five students from The Polytechnic another constituent college of the University of Malawi in Blantyre following violent protests.

The students from Chancellor College and Polytechnic on Wednesday failed to march to present a petition to the District Commissioner of Blantyre over delays to return to class.

The delays follow the stand-off between their lecturers’ demand on guarantees of academic freedom from the Council of the University of Malawi.

The students have said they are losing their patience over delays to return to classes warning that they may be prompted to take to the streets.

 


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