The ceiling of common sense has, surely, dropped so low in the Malawi Police Service (MPS) that whenever police officers hear of the word demonstration, all they think about is tear-gassing people, regardless of age. MPS seems to have mastered one-cap-fits-all strategies which, unfortunately, do not always work.
For examples we need not look further than Blantyre City, where police officers— old, mature and trained— on Monday turned against mere primary school learners who, tired of staying home when their friends in private primary schools are learning, decided to take to the streets.
The pupils were, on one hand, protesting against teachers’ decision to go on a national strike while, on the other hand, hoping that the government would find sense in meeting its obligation to the teachers by settling the arrears quickly. The teachers are themselves protesting against government’s failure to pay them their 2016/17 leave grants.
Now, there is nothing wrong with pupils expressing themselves. What is amiss is for them to storm the streets without seeking permission from the authorities. As they say, no one, not even children, are above the law.
Which is why we would like to condemn, in strongest terms, the pupils’ violent behaviour. Throwing stones at passers-by and vehicles does not serve their purpose of putting their message across.
We can only fear for the future as these pupils are absorbing violent behaviour into their system.
However, we are disappointed with our law enforcers. At best, our law enforcers seem ill-equipped to contain even pupils. And, so, as usual, they resorted to throwing tear-gas canisters at the innocent pupils.
The sight of pupils demonstrating may have the appearance of randomness because it is not often that they storm the streets to express themselves. Of course, we know that pupils once stormed the streets, during former president Joyce Banda’s regime, and, unlike now, police officers did not throw tear-gas canisters at the pupils.
Our hope, this time around, was that, since it is not the first time that pupils are demonstrating, the MPS would handle them even better than last time. Alas!
It is embarrassing that our men and women in uniform resorted to heavy-handedness in dealing with the pupils who, for all intents and purposes, are children.
Such reactions give Malawi a bad name and speak volumes about poor people management skills within the rank and file of the MPS. The police should not forget that they are reformed, and part of the reforms should be peoplecentredness.
It is high time the MPS embraced other mechanisms of quelling violence for, as they say, violence begets violence.