Malawi court stops Council from shutting down university

Blantyre, Malawi (PANA) - The Industrial Relations Court in Blantyre has granted an injunction restraining the University Council, the regulatory authority of the University of Malawi, from 'completely shutting down' two constituent colleges of the University of Malawi.

The Council ordered that the Blantyre-based Polytechnic and Zomba-based Chancellor College be sealed by close of business on Wednesday to prevent all academic and general staff from accessing their offices following the now seven-week-old stand-off between lecturers and Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito.

But the lecturers, through their lawyer Thokozani Ngwirwa, appeared before Industrial Relations Court deputy chairman Jack N'riva Tuesday, arguing that the Council's order was illegal.

According to an affidavit sworn in support of the application, sworn by Ngwirwa, Council's order was against the Labour Relations Act which calls for mediation in any dispute before a lock-out is ordered. This did not happen.

N'riva agreed with Ngwira and ordered University Council Chairman Prof. James Seyani and University Registrar Benedicto Wokomaatani Malunga or their agents from enforcing the directive to shut down the two colleges.

He said disregarding the order may lead to contempt of court proceedings that may lead to the Council officials being committed to prison.

There was jubilation in the streets of Zomba soon after news of the injunction reached them. The lecturers sang the national anthem and honked and blared their car horns in celebration.

"This means the situation remains as it is, no one should lock us out," said Associate Chancellor College Law Professor Edger Kanyongolo. "It seems Council is either being needlessly vindictive or it is not getting proper legal advice because it is clear most of their actions since this stand off begun are not backed by any law."

Earlier, the High Court in Zomba also dismissed an application by Council to vacate an injunction the lecturers obtained against it restraining the Council from forcing the lecturers back to class.

Justice Godfrey Mwase, in his ruling, agreed with the lecturers lawyer Bright Theu that the lecturers’ boycott of classes was not tantamount to an industrial action or a strike but that they have palpable reasons to be afraid of entering classes.

"The situation on campus is not conducive for safe teaching," said the judge.

The university lecturers' stand-off begun after the police chief summoned Associate Political Science Professor Blessings Chinsinga over a classroom example he gave in one of his lectures.

Dr. Chinsinga reportedly told a public policy class that it was crises like Malawi's persistent fuel shortages that lead to insurrections like those that toppled governments of Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

The lecturers downed tools in solidarity with Chinsinga, protesting against what they called interference of their academic freedom. They demanded an apology from Mukhito and assurances of academic freedom.

But Mukhito has refused to apologise, insisting he was simply doing his job of ensuring national security. He said academic freedom must be balanced with issues of security.

President Bingu wa Mutharika, who is both Chancellor of the University of Malawi and Commander-in-Chief of the Malawi Police Service, has since thrown his weight behind the police chief, urging Mukhito not to apologise to "teachers who are teaching revolution".

Students at both colleges held violent street demonstrations in solidarity with their lecturers, leading to running battles between them and police and the eventual closure of the two colleges.
-0- PANA RT/VAO 5April2011

05 april 2011 16:46:37

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