6 August 2016 Last updated at: 2:33 PM
Malawi24 exclusive: Inside Mutharika’s meeting with student leaders
…University leaders exposed
Malawi24 has had a rare access from the meeting that was held at the State House in Lilongwe on Thursday 5 August, 2016 between the Malawi leader and Public Universities Chancellor, Peter Mutharika, as well as student union leaders.
Sources that were part of the meeting have disclosed to the Malawi24 team some details not made public of the meeting which since settled to have a reduction of K50,000 in the proposed fee hike that University Council made.
The University of Malawi instructed that it had revised the fee contribution of its Colleges. The Council disclosed that the hike has been made to both generic and upgrading students.
According to the new fee regime, the minimum that University students were to pay was pegged at K400,000 for generic while for the upgrading, it was pegged at K900 000.
The decision however attracted protests from the University students with Chancellor College leading the way in demonstrations that turned violent and saw a diplomatic mishap as the students blocked the road for US Vice President wife Jill Biden who had been in the country visiting.
Later, students from the Kamuzu College of Nursing also took to the streets in a rare show of defiance for the hike. They were later supported by students from the Polytechnic who were also teargassed by the Police in their protest. Students from the College of Medicine on the other hand delivered a petition against the hike.
In the process, Chancellor College was closed indefinitely after the running battles with the Police.
Meeting with Mutharika
The students started lobbying other stakeholders in the fight against the hike. On the other hand, the University Council was also doing its own lobbying for sectors to support the hike.
The students met with Leader of Opposition in Parliament Lazarus Chakwera who expressed that he was in support of their cause. Some other members of the Civil Society proposed that on 4 August they would take to the streets to protest the hike. The President announced that he would be meeting the students on 4 August.
At the meeting
The student leaders met with Mutharika on 4 August in Lilongwe where they were to present their grievances on the fee hike.
According to an attendee of the meeting, the meeting was opened by Mutharika giving his address on the matter. He was flanked by, among others, his Personal aide Dr. Collins Magalasi.
Mutharika disclosed to the students that the cost of training them ranges between K2.5 million to about K6 million. A source that attended the meeting described Mutharika as having created a platform for fake dialogue with his opening remarks.
“The moment HE made his remarks, we felt that we were doomed,” said the source. “Here was a President already having an idea that we were not justified to express grievances presiding over our complaints. It was a set up.”
The source also disclosed that some members of the student leaders’ team were intimidated by the presence of authority.
“The President did not come with all the security detail nor was he banging tables (like his brother) but you could feel that his mere presence was intimidating some of the student leaders,” the source disclosed before saying that it was for that reason that the proposed reduction of K50,000 which was made by the President was embraced wholesomely.
According to a student leader, the only person who seemed to be manning up to the President was the Chancellor College student leader Sylvester Ayuba James.
“I should say that the dialogue team from us, the students, was in a disarray. We were not prepared fully for the showdown and you could feel that it was only Ayuba who seemed ready for the challenge,” he said.
A message circulating indicating that it was sent by the Chanco student leader inidctaes that he was shouted at by the President for dominating the meeting. Our source could neither confirm nor deny the claim but said the President already had a negative attitude towards the Chanco student leader.
“The so-called leader (Ayuba) has been in the news fighting the President, on social media he has been castigating the President. You can be sure that his fight with the President is not just on fees and there is no reason for the President to like him,” said the source privy to the team of the President that organised the meeting.
It has also been learnt by this publication that some people close to the President indicated to him that opposition parties had installed their people in the fee hike protests and they indicated the Chanco student leader to be the opposition element.
The state President meanwhile has disclosed that he has instructed the University Council to open Chancellor College. Some students have indicated that they are still unhappy with the reduction indicating it is not significant. It is not known if the protests will continue with the student leaders having had agreed to the K50,000 reduction.