Monday, 3 November 2014

THE SICHILONGO CASE: 10 Lessons to the Teaching Fraternity

Sr Chakupalesa and Mr Sichilongo reconciling
By Pumulo Mungoma

It is said that the wise learn from the mistakes of others as one may not live long enough to commit and learn from one’s own mistakes directly.  The recent turn of events by the walking to freedom of Mr. Daswell Sichilongo, the man who battered a Catholic nun and (Acting) Headteacher, Sister Emma Chakupalesa, of Roma Girls’ Secondary School has re-kindled a lot of debate. In a blink of an eye Mr. Sichilongo had turned himself into a “celebrity”; unfortunately for the bad reasons.

On the other hand, his case is ornamented with a lot of lessons. I wish to highlight 10 of the lessons that we can all learn from this rather unfortunate incident.

Sr. Chakupalesa met her fate after locking the institutional house occupied by Mr. Sichilongo, 53, a Science Teacher at the same school. Sister Chakupalesa locked Mr. Sichilongo’s house for alleged failure to pay a K1,500) for rentals. Mr. Sichilongo pounced on the nun with fierce punches after efforts by Mr. Sichilongo to discuss the matter in the presence of a MUVI TV crew were turned down by Sister Chakupalesa.

Mr. Sichilongo said he was disappointed that Sister Chakupalesa decided to lock his family out of the house despite that Sister Chakupalesa knew very well that his bank account had been blocked on a technicality.

But recently, Mr. Sichilongo walked to freedom after the complainant (Sr. Chakupalesa) withdrew the case. Sister Chakupalesa told Senior Resident Magistrate Aridah Chulu that she had opted to withdraw and seek reconciliation. Magistrate Chulu acceded to the withdrawal but warned that the case cannot be brought back to court.

From the onset, I wish to thank and appreciate that the two have agreed to seek reconciliation.  It is a discharged case now, and leaves behind lessons for all of us.  I now wish to share with you what I have outlined as the 10 lessons that every well-meaning citizen should learn from this case, especially for teachers. 

1. Considerate, Fair Administration is Key
From this incident, we can conclude that a person has no limits in retaliation when pushed to the edge. Man  can easily turn into a “beast” when pressed against the wall. He can fight back especially when his family members are either a target or direct victim too, of such an action.   

Mr. Sichilongo’s family was left in the cold and his children missed school especially at the time when pupils were sitting for their Mock Examinations.  The Bible teaches us to always remember to treat others the way you would want to be treated. Empathy needs to be expressed by administrators, especially when material facts are presented to them.

The case highlighted how the school administration acted so harshly on this matter. The extent of locking an institutional house for failure to pay K1,500 only was too harsh a consideration.  This is their teacher! Where can he run to if his own school and managers disown him?  The fact that Sr. Chakupalesa was Acting Headteacher, she needed to be more accommodating!  A little bit more of tolerance and benefit of doubt are necessary! Every human being deserves better treatment.

Good leadership as Headteachers is about being sensitive to the pressing needs of their subordinates, and respond appropriately.

2.      Gender-Based Violence at Display
The incident has shown that gender-based violence is more pronounced when a woman is the victim, while when it is the man it is less projected. We saw a united force mounted against Mr. Sichilongo in the name of the Sisters of Charity, the Zambia Episcopal Conference, the Catholic priests and the women movement in general. One Mongu (Western Province) based clergyman Priest Rev. Ignatius Lubasi Muyunda Chanakila said “beating a religious sister is sacrilegious (blasphemous).”  The solidarity the nun received from her Church should have shown that “blood is thicker than water!”

The incident has taught us that real men defend women and others. Real men are never used as bullets to turn defenseless women into punching bags! It was a reminder that violence, even a threat of violence, is a crime!

3.      Teacher Unionism Welfare
The teacher union to which Mr. Sichilongo belonged was not spared from drama.  The Secretary General of the union; Professional Teachers Union of Zambia (PROTUZ) Mr. Albert Muyembe had rushed to the media to issue statements condemning Mr. Sichilongo; likely not having known that he was their member.  The statement backfired after teachers condemned that decision to nail their member to the cross.  At least for PROTUZ they have learnt it the hard way that unionism is not about issuing media statements; it is about member representation, guidance and seeking appropriate correctional measures even when held in-camera.

It is good that PROTUZ managed to man up and clean their own mess.  They offered legal representation, a half-salary payment (as he was suspended by the DEBS for Lusaka) and other assistance to Mr. Sichilongo and his family. The turn of event in fact helped consolidate the belief that belonging to a teacher union is vital. The incident seems to have come at the right time when teacher unionism had lost confidence in its members.

4.      Bring Anger Under Control
We should not act out of anger instead wait for the time you are calm and collected because only then will you have a clear state of mind to make a good decision.  Do not act when you are angry because during that time your ability to reason well is “paused”. Everyone has the right to be angry, but that does not make one have right to be cruel.  The inability to control anger has been a great contribution to strained relations in families and work places!  It is virtuous to be quick to listen, but slow to speak and to anger.

Worse still, Mr. Sichilongo is just less than two years to retirement age. A long jail conviction on that count of assault of causing bodily may have guaranteed a dismissal from work and lose all his benefits. And you know what a dismissal would have meant for him and his family.

5.      Two Wrongs Cannot Make a Right
Fighting is never a good “hobby”; at least for teachers, and never will it be.  The experience of adults fighting paints a very bad picture to the children we teach and the reputation of the concerned teachers themselves. This affects the reputation of the school and the profession at large.  It should be known that kick-boxing is never an option to conflict management.

Teachers must exercise maximum restraint in times like that. To avoid finding yourself in such scenario, let teachers learn to have a swift communication procedure. This communication platform must be bound by mutual trust, respect and understanding.   If that effective channel was in place, currently there would be no such a case involving Mr. Sichilongo and Sister Chakupalesa.  It was such an unfortunate incident.

6.      Be Responsible, Communicate
In life we need to learn to “give Ceaser what belong to Ceaser” in time. To avoid inconveniences and problems with service providers like accommodation, we need to be responsible enough to pay our bills on time; where possible even pay in advance. Where you are unable to pay on time, it is good that you notify the other party in the agreement.  It is expected too that the other party should be ready to reason with you; and come up of agreed methods of dealing with defaults in payments.  Agreements can be breached or not honoured but that does not allow chaos in managing the breach or default in payment for the service offered.  This should apply even to other services like water, electricity, school fees, etc.

7.      A Litmus-Paper for Teacher Solidarity
The Sichilongo's case has acted as a litmus paper or barometer to see how united teachers are. Teachers must bear each other’s’ burdens.   A lot of teachers not only offered moral support but also financial and material support.  I know of one Lusaka based comrade who had offered to help the Sichilongo family with accommodation until their case is disposed of by the courts of law. Many teachers and none teachers used social media for solidarity and to raise thousands of funds to assist Mr. Sichilongo.

The spirit of a united Ubuntu (humanism) was shown. Of course, solidarity need to be extended to Sr. Chakupalesa as the incident has been so humiliating, painful and embarrassing to her; especially being a woman of the veil and that it happened on a TV camera, and the video has so far circulated widely on the internet. Commend the nun for her forgiving heart despite the embarrassment. Despite being a woman of the veil, her forgiving spirit is remarkable!

8.      Never Take Law The In Your Own Hands
No matter how tempted it i,s never take the law in your own hands.  There are many established channels for professionals to resolve conflicts apart from embarking on assault.  That way, when taken, it can be regrettable.

For example, Mr. Sichilongo had an option to seek help from his District Education Board Secretary for Lusaka or even further!  An intervention from there would have eased things. Being pro-active is key!

9.      There is Strength in the Word “Sorry”
A well-meant apology is a strength and not weakness. In fact an apology is a reserve of the strong and humble. The simple word “sorry” managed to save Mr. Sichilongo’s job, relationship with his boss and the Catholic Church as well as his strained reputation. It has been said that to err is human, but to forgive is divine. It is commendable that he apologized and the nun found room in her heart to forgive Mr. Sichilongo.

Love covers and conquers all multitudes of sin. I know the angels in heaven were ululating when Mr. Sichilongo and Sister Chakupalesa hugged each other in the peaceful spirit of reconciliation.  It was a sigh of relief for both!

10.  Sometimes We Need Arbitrators In Life
The better principle of social dialogue and conflict management did not prevail in the incident. When relationships turn sour, sometimes we take it for granted that we can resolve issues on our own. It is high time we started involving a third party when we reach a deadlock with other party in a contract or any relationship. There is need for an arbitrator (reconciler) in life.

The need for arbitration is also seen in the incident that led to the withdrawing of this case from the courts of law. For sure it is high time that we started seeking arbitrators hand when need arises even at the lowest level of conflict management.  Bembas say “icakukonka ulubilo bacinkonka ulubilo” (conflicts need to be solved as quickly as possible).

It is also a lesson that we should try by all means not to solve issues through the media. Rushing to MUVI TV was just so immature and a “cry baby” move on the part of Mr. Sichilongo when there were other administrative channels to be followed like seeking the help from the district education office.

In conclusion, it is clear that the key to withdraw the case from the court lay with Sister Chakupalesa, and for this she needs to be commended for the decision to forgive Mr. Sichilongo and move on with life as colleagues.  This is not to downgrade the humility shown by Mr. Sichilongo as well as other interested bodies mentioned in the article.  The precedence set by the results of the reconciliation and arbitration is very good, commendable and exemplary.

Pumulo Mungoma is a Zambian teacher, and has written a lot on many issues that relate to Zambia’s education policy. He also volunteers with a number of educational organisations and associations; among them is the Zambian Teachers Forum where he works as Education Policy Analyst and Researcher!  Phone contacts: +260954-623860. Email:]

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