By Duncan Mlanjira
Management at the Polytechnic in Blantyre have been forced to temporarily close down the college due to the fire that has gutted down Nyika hostel block on Tuesday afternoon until a temporary solution is identified.
Through a communique signed by acting Registrar Y.D. Chilinde, all the students, even those whose hostels were not affected, were ordered to vacate the college for home by 6pm on Tuesday evening, a few hours after the fire.
The fire followed a fracas the students were involved in when they they were reportedly demonstrating against rampant theft at the campus being perpetrated by outsiders.
According to reports, the college students have been affected by the theft from the outsiders because most of the hostels are not well secured and was showing their discontent to management to do something about it.
On Monday, night robbers are reported to have broken into two hostels and went away with laptops, cell phones, clothes among others that made them demonstrate.
But in the process, the demonstrations went out of hand when the students took to the streets and affected traffic along Masauko Chipembere Highway, forcing the police, who are just a stone throw away, to come and intervention of the police.
The police are reported to have fired tear gas to force the students to get back into their campus.
In the midst of the tear gas splee, the hostel caught fire from an undisclosed source.
Some people commenting on social, though it hadn’t been confirmed, just assumed that probably one of the tear gas canisters may have landed on beddings in one of the rooms and caught fire.
As a debate raged on social media, some school of thoughts refuted that a tear gas canister can cause fire.
One defended the tear gas canister theory, saying it was “tested and approved as a non-fire mass dispersion tool under out-of-order crowd control procedures”.
But another was still of this contrary opinion, saying that he recalls back in 2012 that one of the hostels caught fire from a teargas cannister when it landed on beddings but the fire was quickly subdued.
“My comment isn’t, however, confirming that this fire was started by cannister but rather the possibility that a hot cannister can cause fire,” he said.
Probably after following the debates, one person — who claimed to be a student, explained that there’s a tuck shop at the ground floor of Nyika hostel where potato chips is served and that they use a deep frier.
The person explained that when the police fired the teargas, the tuck shop operator ran away without switching off everything, saying: “So, you know what cooking oil can do with fire.”
Others then attacked her, saying if that is the case then the blame should not go to the police but rather to the students themselves because they took their demonstration — against an internal matter — to the streets where it affected innocent motorists and pedestrians.
But this students would have none of it, saying: “Be sensible please! The street is the right place to demonstrate. Anywhere in the world, when demonstrating, they take it to the street.
“Is it wrong because we are students? When the ‘others’ are demonstrating in the streets, does the police go and fire teargas in their houses?”
The assumed student claimed that there were other students who were in the hostels and were not part of the demonstrations but those on the streets “but the police was too excited to use teargas anyhow, without targeting the correct group of people”.
The assumed student scolded the commentators of the incident, saying they should not exonerate the police, saying the law enforcers were to blame for the fire, whether it was through the alleged fire from the deep frier or not.
“The blame is on the police and it shall remain so. [it is] not just a blame, it is a fact-based blame,” said the alleged student.
While all this debate was raging, one parent Thokozani Mlotha said: “My son’s belongings, including his laptop have been burnt. He was staying in this hostel — I don’t have words to say.”
Several people offered their deepest sympathy to this distraught mother, who was probably even more traumatized when she must have been told that the students have been evicted from the hostels.