The border re-demarcation between Malawi and Mozambique has put some pupils in Makanjira on a dangerous path as they do part of their schooling on both sides of the new divide, our Staff Reporter AYAMI MKWANDA writes.
Located 14 kilometres from Mpiripiri Trading Centre, Mpamba is the nearest school to children aged six to nine.
The children, from Mkopiti, M’madi and Makuta villages in the school’s vicinity, have been hit hard by the shifting of the borders between Malawi and Mozambique.
Before the border re-demarcation exercise, the school in Makanjira, on the south eastern-boundary, used to enrol hundreds of pupils. Not anymore.
These days, pupils feel going to the remote school in Mangochi district is embarking on an exercise in futility.
Most pupils learn on the Mozambican side from Standard One to Three. Their morale is low as their neighbours, from Chechala in Mozambique, mistreat and taunt them every day.
According to head teacher Enoch Kadzuwa, the neighbours, in a display of arrogance, come riding motor cycles, whizzing past the school and poking fun at them for “learning in a foreign land”.
“It is an insult the pupils have to bear every day. And this affects them emotionally,” explains Kadzuwa.
Oftentimes, learning is interrupted either by clashes between the local communities and their counterparts across the border.
Sometimes, classes are disrupted by mere provocative gestures from the “the other side”.
This constantly reminds the children that they are in a country where they are not accepted—a situation they have had to cope with since the school, which was on the Malawian side, suddenly fell on Mozambique’s.
This could be the reason Rajab Ali, a Standard Three pupil, has a negative attitude towards education, his father Msuwo Ali says.
“My eight-old son has lost enthusiasm for education. He just goes there to pass the time away, not to learn. It is not secure there anymore,” says the parent, from M’madi Village in Makanjira.
The border wrangle culminated in a fatal security lapse last year when Mozambican soldiers shot dead a young man, Saduku Mpalume, near the school.
It is an event that has stuck in the locals’ memories.
“The children live in fear of being gunned down. They are no longer interested in going to school. Others stopped going to school following the incident,” says youthful villager Abdul Chapola.
According to the locals, a day hardly passes without hearing about the acrimonious clashes in which Mozambican soldiers beat Malawians or slash maize in Malawians’ crop fields.
When the Mozambican security officers killed Mpalume last December, pupils scampered in panic amid gunshots. Some of them ran as far as Fort Maguire, almost 25 kilometres (km) north of Makanjira.
The experience has forced others to quit school.
In reaction, Malawi Defence Force, in conjunction with the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Planning in Lilongwe, deployed more security officers to the troubled border strip in January.
Despite the military patrols, the fear of shootings abounds.
“Where fear reigns, no progress, even education, is achievable,” laments Ali.
Many parents with children at Mpamba want the governments of Malawi and Mozambique to speed up their negotiations over what they consider a messy and hasty border re-demarcation.
Ali looks forward to the day governments will “set them free”.
“As of now, we don’t know our fate yet. Is Malawi government going to accept the new boundary or not?” wonders Ali.
It is a question most people in the village are asking.
The nearest school is Namitukuta, six km away. But it cannot absorb pupils from Mpamba. It is overcrowded.
According to the head teacher, there are 356 pupils. The population of pupils learning on the Mozambican side is estimated at over 200.
“Little children cannot travel a 13 km distance to and from school. They are the worst affected by this border issue,” he says.
The Malawians in the border stretch face prospects of hunger as their neighbours across the border slashed their maize.
But they are worried about the pupils’ education which is hanging in a balance.
“Children need to eat in the morning before coming to school. This year, most families will not have food. Surely, pupils will be affected,” says the head teacher.
Mangochi district education manager (DEM) Joe Magombo could not say for sure if there are any plans to liberate and uplift the communities in agony.
“I am not sure of what can be done in that situation when pupils learning on the Mozambican side finally stop,” he says.
The uncertainty increases despair in the people who suspect that Malawi government has given up on them.
It sums up the frustrations of these Malawian communities failing to come to terms with a sudden border shift.
Until the rainy season is over, Makanjira children learning on Mozambican side await their final fate.