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Many Mozambicans Aren't on Board With a Minister's Idea of Using Old Buses as Classrooms

Photo: Rosino/Flickr CC-BY-SA 2.0

Small entrepreneurial initiatives that seem to hold great potential for social transformation are a journalistic cliché in Africa.

From houses built of bottles to bicycles that charge cellphones – and innumerable applications capable of solving everything, from good weather out in the fields to corruption – these initiatives generally involve some type of superficial solution for serious structural problems and yet are reported with clear enthusiasm.

Recently, when a Mozambican minister suggested using old buses from municipal public transport companies as classrooms, local Internet users reacted with scorn and indignation. “In the end this is how we combat poverty, taking the poor to the trash?” remarked one commenter.

The suggestion was given by Minister of Transport and Communications Carlos Mesquita after visiting the public transport companies of the cities of Maputo and Matola, where he noticed that dozens of old buses are lying unused.

The minister then proposed the idea of using the old buses for the education sector, which is also facing serious problems with infrastructure, leading many students to study under trees. On 22 June the newspaper MediaFax published his statement:

A transformação de autocarros paralisados em salas de aulas pode ser uma solução a dar aos autocarros que já não servem para o transporte. Sabemos que a questão de alunos sentados no chão e ao relento é um problema social que preocupa a todos. Claro que será necessário fazer algumas adaptações, mas as diferentes partes do autocarro podem também ser aproveitadas nesse sentido

The transformation of unused buses into classrooms could be a solution to employ for the buses which now do not serve as transport. We know that the question of students sitting on the ground and in the dew is a social problem that worries everybody. Obviously it will be necessary to make some adaptations, but the different parts of the bus could also be used with this idea in mind.

Rafael Machalela, a Mozambican journalist who was covering the visit, told Global Voices about the reaction of those present to the suggestion:

Aquilo suscitou alguma gargalhada nos jornalistas e na comitiva ministerial por não terem entendido os moldes, em concreto, de como as carcaças seriam usadas como salas de aula.

That caused some laughter among the journalists and the ministerial committee for not having understood how, concretely, the old buses would be used as classrooms.

‘Reveals a banalization of a sector as important as education’

On social media, the idea provoked negative reactions.

Many emphasized the state’s obligation to provide quality education to the population, pointing to the recent purchase of expensive Mercedes Benz cars for the Assembly of the Republic as proof that public resources could be better used.

On Facebook, for example, Domingos Gundana posed the question:

Eu não entendi a inovação sugerida para albergar os filhos do povo (…) Senhor ministro diz que nossos filhos, sim nós pobres, merecem o lixo das empresas? afinal é assim que combatemos a pobreza, levando os pobres para o lixo? Será que seu neto vai aceitar estudar na escola machimbombo do lixo?Não tenho nada contra a reciclagem, mas sugerir que filhos de pobres sejam entulhados nas carcaças de lixo das empresas, Hummmm, demais não acha?

I did not understand the innovation suggested for sheltering the people’s children […] Mr. Minister said that our children, yes us poor, deserve the companies’ trash? In the end, is it like this that we combat poverty, taking the poor to the trash? Would your grandson accept studying in a school of buses from the trash? I have nothing against recycling, but to suggest that the children of the poor be squeezed into the old buses from the companies’ trash, Hummmm, too much, don’t you think?

Chell Evaristo preferred to talk about the risks that the buses could pose to the students:

Com tantos riscos de oxidação (ferrugem) e acúmulo de muita coisa prejudicial à saúde, esse ministro encheu a boca para sugerir uma coisa daquelas a uma camada tão propensa a doenças? Com um Mercedes daqueles que compraram quantas salas de aulas teriam essas crianças? Enfim, não achei correta essa ideia numa altura em que há pessoas que têm direito de um carro avaliado em quase 5.000.000.00mt [220 mil dólares americanos] e por cima sem pagar combustível e nem manutenção da mesma

With so many risks of oxidation (rust) and the accumulation of many things harmful to health, did this minister proudly suggest something to a sector of society so prone to illnesses? With one of the Mercedes that they bought, how many classrooms would those children have? Anyway, I did not think this idea correct, at a time where there are people entitled to a car valued at around 5,000,000,00mt [220,000 US dollars] and without even paying for their fuel or maintenance.

In a post by university professor Julião Cumbane in which he asked what his followers think of the idea, Rosário Cumbane commented:

Eu penso que esta forma propositada de pensar do ministro é de mediocridade uma vez que revela uma banalização de um sector tão importante qual é da educação. Ele não podia pensar no melhor para educação. Por outro lado, esta tentativa revela também alguma inconsistência na gestão da área do sector de transporte. Na minha opinião, se ele quisesse ajudar em alguma coisa, transformaria os Mercedes Benz em machimbombos para transporte público de passageiros

I think that the minister's deliberate way of thinking is mediocre as it reveals a banalization of a sector as important as education. He could not think of the best for education. On the other hand, this attempt also reveals an inconsistency in the management of the transport sector. In my opinion, if he wanted to help with something, he would turn the Mercedes Benz into buses for public transport for passengers

For their part, the parliament members of Movimento Democrático de Moçambique (Democratic Movement of Mozambique), who act as opposition to the government of ruling party FRELIMO, argued that the idea showed a “lack of creativity” and also alluded to incomes from exporting wood:

A sugestão revela o défice de criatividade, esgotamento de imaginação e sobretudo o desinteresse pela dignidade e bem-estar para os cidadãos. Pois, Moçambique tem todo tipo de recursos para construir salas de aulas condignas, com carteiras de qualidade pois o nosso País é rico em madeira. Mas para nossa frustração essa madeira é enviada para China. Com esta sugestão o Ministro vem provar ao que todo povo já sabe e disso está muito consciente: o governo do dia e o seu partido já não tem ideias para Moçambique.

The suggestion reveals the lack of creativity, the exhaustion of imagination and above all the disinterest for the dignity and well-being of citizens. Since Mozambique has all types of resources for building decent classrooms with quality desks, as our country is rich in wood. But to our frustration that wood is sent to China. With that suggestion the minister proved what everybody already knew and is very aware of: the government of the day and his party now have no ideas for Mozambique.

Similarly thinking of utilizing income from wood, Fabião Agostinho wrote on his Facebook wall:

Mas o senhor tem consciência do que diz..? Porque iremos optar nesta alternativa se o nosso país produz muita madeira capaz de suprir as difíceis de Cadeiras nas Salas de Aula..? Porque iremos imitar sistemas de países com défices de Madeira se nós temos estes recursos em abundante. Se levassem o Dinheiro da Compra dos Mercedes-Benz e edificassem mais Salas de Aulas, não iriam minimizar esta crise..?

But is the gentleman aware of what he is saying? Why would we choose this alternative if our country produces a lot of wood capable of meeting the difficulties of classroom seats..? Because we will imitate systems of countries which lack wood although we have these resources in abundance. If they took the money for purchasing the Mercedes-Benz and built more classrooms, would they not reduce this crisis?

‘Only those who never sat under a tree…could think this idea stupid’

Although they were a minority, there were also Internet users who received the minister’s suggestion positively. For example, Luís Mazoio supported the idea, referencing a dramatic scene he recently witnessed in one of the schools of Mozambique’s capital:

Sr Ministro Mesquita autorize por favor que aqueles autocarros sejam imediatamente distribuídos pelas escolas necessitadas. Passei ontem por volta das 6.30 da manha por uma escola na aldeia Samora Machel no distrito de Marracuene, bem a beira da estrada nacional. Ainda havia nevoeiro pelo que não deu para tirar fotografia. O professor coitado circulava pelo pátio com os meninos procurando por um lugar que já tivesse raios solares para sentar e ensinar aqueles meninos tossindo e congelando de frio. Era de partir o coração. Mande Já as carcaças Sr. Ministro. E hoje são 23 graus de temperatura máxima.

Mr. Minister Mesquita, please immediately authorize the distribution of buses to the needy schools. Yesterday around 6:30 in the morning I passed by a school in the village Samora Machel in the district of Marracuene, just at the edge of the national road. There was still fog so I could not take photographs. The poor teacher went round the courtyard with the boys looking for a place which already had some sunshine to sit and teach those boys coughing and freezing from the cold. It was heart-breaking. Send the old buses, Mr Minister. And today it is 23 degrees temperature maximum.

Muzila Nhatsave was another person who looked favourably on the idea, writing:

Boa ideia acho (…) quantas crianças aqui mesmo em Maputo sentam no chão e com este frio. Só quem nunca sentou debaixo de uma árvore para aprender o ABC pode achar estúpida essa ideia. Aqui na Matola há escolas sem salas de aulas suficientes e bem próximas a empresa a menos de 2 km. Quem nunca viu autocarro a ser transformado em restaurante , take away.?

Good idea, I think […] how many children here even in Maputo sit on the ground and in this cold. Only those who never sat under a tree to learn the ABCs could think this idea stupid. Here in Matola there are schools without enough classrooms and are just near to the company, less than 2 km away. Who never saw a bus transformed into a takeaway restaurant?

Bitone Viage asked ironically that damaged light cars be transformed into rooms for daycare centers:

Parabéns meu Ministro, peço também para avisar aos ministérios disponibilizarem aquelas sucatas de carros ligeiros para serem transformados em creches.

Congratulations to my minister, I also ask you to advise the ministries to make those light scrap cars available to be turned into nurseries.

The suggestion also got some humorous reactions. ” Selling: Classrooms”. Post by Sérgio Chaúque, on Facebook.

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