AT Munyenze Primary School in Monze District of Southern Province, they ‘beat’. No, I don’t mean teachers beating pupils, I mean youths in the community beating up teachers. That’s right. If one comes to this school to impart what is known as the ‘western’ form of education on the younger population, they are ganged up on by community members and given a good beating. The repercussions on a head teacher? Even graver. They get twice the beating, and if unlucky, may have their heads broken.
The reason is weird and wacky. Legend has it that the community around Munyenze Primary School does not want formal education anywhere near their children because it interferes with the time intended for cattle herding. In this part of Zambia, it would appear, parents find it pointless for their children to learn how to count if it is not cattle they are counting. Here, choosing between learning one’s A,B,C,Ds and milking a cow is a no brainer!
However, they say lies travel faster than the truth, so perhaps this may not be an accurate depiction of what is happening at Munyenze Primary School. Although you may agree with me as you read further, that the above narrative is not so far from the truth, the authorities in Monze have a different explanation as to why a headteacher’s head was almost split open by an angry mob almost at the close of 2020.
On December 26, 2020, the head teacher of Munyenze Primary School, Bravery Siamunyanga, was attacked by some assailants whom he says he and his son can identify as notorious members of a particular household. The motive for the assailants remains a subject of debate and speculation, but here is what we can decipher from the victimised head teacher, the District Education Board Secretary and the traditional leader.
According to the wounded headteacher, whose head is still healing, thanks to several stitches across his skull, he encountered a rude awakening around 3 A.M. the morning after Christmas. Rattled by intrusive movements and noises outside his house, he decided to inspect the matter for himself. He was met by a familiar gang of rowdy youths who slurred insults at him and expected him to succumb to them, as was the norm. However, Siamunyanga’s unusual fit of courage to advance towards them with a lit torch resulted in severe punches. Hearing the commotion, his son rushed out of the house to rescue him. What followed after were direct threats to kill his son.
“This group of notorious boys insult all teachers, not just head teachers. I have been subjected to a lot of insults from them. On this day, I was hit on my knee and this caused me to lose power and fall down. Shortly after, I was hit on the head. I have a deep wound. My son who rushed outside to help me was attacked also. Both of us sustained deep cuts,” Siamunyanga laments.
Siamunyanga believes that the community does not support the education system because of their reluctance to seek justice on this incident. According to him, the community was assigned to expose the perpetrators to the authorities in order for them to be incarcerated. However, according to him, they have turned a blind eye and continued with their lives.
“In brief, most people in the community have a low spirit of educating their children. Not many have the zeal to have their children progress in education. This is an area of pastoral farming and so most children are sent out into pastures to look after animals. Education to them is not a priority,” says Siamunyanga.
“The school should be closed briefly so that the community learns the value of education and taking care of government workers. Most teachers live in fear because such violence is rampant and there is no justice against perpetrators. I would have died had it not been for the help of my boy.”
Differing views undoubtedly breed different opinions. While Siamunyanga firmly believes that the school should be closed as a stringent measure to teach the community the value of education, the District Education Board Secretary (DEBS) and the Chief of the community disagree.
The DEBS, who is the senior-most government official in the district under the Ministry of General Education, Dr Munansaka Chikuba, implies that Siamunyanga was simply an unlucky man to have been attacked so severely in an isolated incident.
She argues that crimes of this nature have not been occurring often in the district and that this incident was certainly the first of its kind at the school.
She also refutes the argument that violence is a common phenomenon against teachers of Munyenze Primary School saying the community actually believes in education.
“The community wouldn’t come to a point where they wouldn’t want the school. The attack on the head teacher was a complete extreme that hadn’t occurred before and so to judge the whole community or expect the probability of that event occurring frequently in the future was completely unfair,” Dr Chikuba says.
The unspoken question that lingers in the heads of members in Munyenze Village is: Why has the Ministry of Education continued to post teachers to a school with an environment alleged to be extremely hostile? When asked about this, the DEBS explained that it was not in anyone else’s power but that it was up to the permanent secretary to determine whether teachers were posted to a school or not.
Contrary to public views, the DEBS insisted that teachers were very much protected by the education system and that it was not only the responsibility of the system alone to protect the teachers but that of the community as well.
“Head teachers are very protected by the system and the system engages the communities. Every government worker should be protected by the community. That is why in this matter, we also engaged it to charter a way forward,” Dr Chikuba says.
The DEBS insists that education in Munyenze ought to be supported, now more than ever.
She further added that closing the school would be detrimental to all the pupils benefitting from accessing education.
“Certain parameters would have to be agreed upon, on whether or not the school should be closed. However, in my opinion, every community has potential learners, and we don’t have to leave anyone behind,” says Dr Chikuba
Supporting the view of the DEBS is the community’s traditional leader, Chief Choongo, who believes that the incident occurred because the usual watchmen that the community and teachers hired to ensure safety and security boycotted their duties due to a delay in remuneration.
Each village, according to him, agrees on contributing approximately K20 towards the payment of the watchmen.
However, the school administration complained that some villages had been defaulting with this contribution in recent months, putting community members at risk ever since.
“For me to hear this story, as the chief, I was very much concerned. The first question I asked when the incident was brought to my attention was, ‘where were the watchmen hired to safeguard the community’? Some headmen were brought to my palace and asked questions by the traditional authorities, my ngambelas’, and the other people in my traditional counsel. Nonetheless, I can say that the issue [of the watchmen] has been resolved and the villages will adhere to the instructions from the school,” Chief Choongo says.
“I think it is not accurate to conclude that both the past and present occurrences had the same perpetrators. Too much time has elapsed, so I think there is likely no connection between these events.”
When asked whether it was indeed true that some of Choongo’s headmen from the palace actually aided and abetted community members to commit crimes against teachers and disrupt education, Choongo says these rumors are completely fallacious.
“It is not that the community is a confused community, it really values education. Looking at how the PTA and the headmen were supporting the teachers, I think the teachers are not in any way insecure, they are very secure. It’s only that those disgruntled young men had criminal minds. That is why the police had to be involved to capture them. This is not a small issue, the wounds on the head teacher were quite big,” says Chief Choongo.
“Actually, a lot of notable people have passed through that school or come from the community. The Minister of Southern Province, Honorable Edify Hamukale, is one of them. As the chief of the area, and as community members, we are behind the school and do not believe the headmaster did anything wrong which could warrant him being attacked at night. That is why I really want to know the motive of the perpetrators.”