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

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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

Source: Global Voice