‘Atsamunda’ Back In Malawi Neo-colonizing The Education System: The Case Of St Andrews Int.Schools
I’d like to thank, sincerely, all those of you who have shown me your kindness and support, despite not knowing fully of the difficulties I have been facing.
You will be aware that I have not been in school for most of this term and have been on “light duties”. Although I have not wanted to disturb the running of the school with the problems that have faced me, I now think it is right to give you a fuller picture.
When I joined the St Andrew’s, I was excited by the prospect of working in a school I had, for many years, wanted to be part of and in a country I had hoped to return to since visiting in 1993. I was very happy with being here and ready for the challenges which might lie ahead. I have always sought to conduct myself with honesty, openness and integrity and have tried as much as possible to make myself available to you to discuss any issues which may have confronted you. St Andrew’s has an excellent body of teachers, and I have seen my role in the school as being there to enable you to use your skills in the most effective way to serve our students.
I was informed by the Head Teacher in March this year that despite his recommendation, the governors’ had rejected my contract renewal but was assured that this was unrelated to my performance in school. I suspected that it was, however, directly related to a grievance which had been brought against me by Pid’or Tampa; a grievance which I have vehemently denied and which had then (and has still) not been concluded. I also learned that, in contravention of the school’s own grievance procedure, the allegations made against me were raised at a governor’s HR committee meeting (at which Ms Lesley Mpemba discussed with committee members, at length, Pid’or Tampa’s allegations), and again at the full governor’s meeting where the decisions were taken regarding contract renewals. Not only was this prejudicial, as I was not given the opportunity to refute the allegations, it demonstrably affected their decision not to renew my contract.
No indication had been given to me before this meeting that this rejection was imminent. My TEP was being renewed and the conditions of my new contract had been laid out to me in writing by Kieron. I had been centrally involved in planning for next year and in the advertising and interviewing of new teachers. I had every expectation of my employment at the school continuing.
Before the Easter holiday, I wrote to the Chair of Governor’s, Mr Peter Nkosi, asking him to reconsider their decision as the grievance was not being conducted in a just and fair way nor had the school followed their own procedure which I had been told was to be followed. I received a brief reply two weeks later, stating that the grievance and my non-renewal were separate matters and that I was welcome to take them to court but if I did so they would defend their position “jealously”.
I asked, via Kieron, if not the grievance, then what was their reason for my non-renewal? The response came back, again via Kieron that “the governors do not have to give a reason”.
The governor’s position, of which you should all now be aware, is that the contract between teacher and governors, which we all sign, is for a fixed period; normally two years. Toward the end of this period either party can decide not to renew without giving any reason.
My contention is that I was recommended for renewal by the Head at the governors’ meeting at which every other renewal recommendation was accepted. At that meeting, prior to the decision being taken, the core group of governors had discussed, for around 30 minutes, the allegations against me without giving me an opportunity to respond.The decision to reject my renewal was then taken.
I requested Kieron to ask Mr Nkosi if I could meet with him to discuss this decision. At first he responded (via Kieron) that he would gladly meet me at any convenient time. When I suggested that I was able to meet him at anytime, I received the response that he had changed his mind and was now unwilling to meet me.
Some days later I met Lesley Mpemba, by chance, in Maky’s restaurant and asked if I could have a little of her time. She agreed. I expressed my deep unhappiness with the way the Governors were conducting themselves and the way they had mishandled the grievance. I asked for the reason for me being refused a second contract; she said it had nothing to do with the on-going grievance and that the decision had been taken “a long time ago… well, not a long time, but some time ago, before the grievance”. I mentioned the fact that she had discussed the matter at the HR committee meeting and prejudiced a fair hearing. She said that “the grievance has never been discussed at any meeting”. I queried this statement and went on to say that I was aware that it had also been discussed at the closed session of the full governors’ meeting a week later in which contract renewals were confirmed or otherwise. Again she repeated that “the grievance has never been discussed at any meeting”. When I asked if I could know the reason why they overturned the Headteacher’s recommendation to renew my contract, she told me that, legally, they didn’t need to give me a reason. I asked whether ethically, morally or professionally she thought I deserved a reason. She refused to enlighten me.
I know that my current, very happy, relationship of 10 months with Mary Kamakoko upset Sarah Samanyika and I was subject to a shocking meeting with her and Kieron before the start of term in August 2016 at which I was told the relationship had to end and that Mary would never be able to work at the school again. The reason given for this was that Mary was a maid who had worked in the school for many years and I was a Deputy Head; this might be fine in England, but was unacceptable in Malawi. After recovering from this upsetting ordeal, Mary moved off site for a short time before I reconsidered the outrageous inappropriateness of Sarah and Kieron’s reaction. I am yet to receive an apology for their actions.
Though never formally revealed by the governors, I now believe that my relationship with Mary was reported to the governors through gossip and innuendo and that the relationship has been viewed as “not appropriate behaviour for a Deputy Head”. I don’t need to remind you that both Mary and I are single, and adults, and like any other members of staff, entitled to a private life. Sarah Samanyika is, I understand, a board member of Peter Nkosi’s own company and, Sarah’s husband’s company, Delta, has the contract for school security. The conflict of interest in these commercial relationships appears not to be of any concern.
I have felt very let down by a small number of people whom I had thought I could trust to act honourably and with principles; people who ought to have been setting the moral standards and ethos of the school.
Since the governor’s decision was taken I have suffered with a succession of stress related illnesses; ulcers, stomach pain and a series of infections. I have lost 5kgs and have been prescribed anti-depression and anti-anxiety medication of increasing strength.
As you will appreciate, the late notice of my non-renewal has made it impossible to find an alternative job for September. I had made Malawi my home and when asked at my interview to commit myself to being here for at least two or three contracts, I had gladly done so. My interview was conducted by Kieron and Peter Nkosi.
I have done my utmost to challenge the governor’s conduct and to try to hold them accountable, but they are not accountable to anyone, and are well aware of the intractable delays of the legal process and so they feel secure that few teachers, particularly ex-patriates, will be able to remain long enough in Malawi to see any justice done.
This may well happen to me. It is likely that by the time you return after the holiday I will have had to leave my home, job and partner; my career in pieces. I loved St Andrew’s despite its many faults and the numerous challenges it faces. I’m not sure where or when I’ll go, but I’d like to thank you all for being such a great bunch of professionals and you should know that I did not want to leave.
I hope I’ll have the chance to see many of you before you leave at the end of term, but if I don’t manage to catch you, may I wish you all the very best for your futures,