A Democracy of Chameleons: Politics and Culture in the New Malawi

By Harri Englund | Go to book overview

2.
Freedom and Insecurity
Civil Servants between Support Networks, the Free Market
and the Civil Service Reform
Gerhard Anders

Herewith you are being notified that your service will be terminated on grounds of redundancy. The last day of service is 31 January 1998. May I thank you for the services you have rendered to the government during the period you have been with us and to wish you all the best in your future undertakings. Monthly wages will be paid in lieu of notice. All outstanding debts will therefore be recovered from any payments due to you.

These are the words in a letter of notification delivered to Mr Kangame1 on 19 January 1998. He had worked since March 1993 as a security guard for the Veterinary Department in Zomba, belonging, as such, to the Industrial Class of the Malawian civil service.2 The Malawi Public Service Regulations (MPSR) provide only little protection to Industrial Class workers. Since Mr Kangame had been employed for less than five years, the due notice was only two weeks.3 His dismissal was part of a retrenchment exercise implemented by the government under the Civil Service Reform Programme (CSRP) guided by the World Bank.4 As a result of a study conducted in 1993, the World Bank had demanded that the number of Industrial Class workers be reduced significantly, the Industrial Class abolished and the remaining employees incorporated in the civil service establishment (World Bank, 1994:74).

Losing a job had an impact that went far beyond the loss of Mr Kangame's income. His wife had to stop selling mandazi, local doughnuts, since the couple could not afford to buy the necessary ingredients any more. Mr Kangame decided to grow cassava, which he planned to sell at the market. Cultivation of cassava is cheap since it does not require seeds or fertiliser. His relatives in the home village, where he lived, supported him: they assigned a plot to him and gave him cassava branches. According to Mr Kangame, they were rather reluctant to help since they were used to seeing him as a provider of support, not as a recipient. Because of his financial difficulties he could no longer buy cooking oil and fertiliser for his mother as he had previously. Instead, he was forced to do ganyu-work5 in order to earn some badly needed cash for himself, his wife and his five children. The letter of notification signified his transformation from someone with status, if modest, to a person with the lowest status, a waganyu, who is not sure whether he will have enough food to feed his children the next day.

Mr Kangame's example illustrates the interdependence between public office and private life in Malawi and the far-reaching consequences changes in the realm of the public office have.6 The term “private” suggests an individualised sphere as opposed

____________________
1
All names are fictive to protect the anonymity of my informants.
2
Employees of the Industrial Class are paid daily wages; they do not hold established posts. Industrial Class employees work as security guards, gardeners, messengers, receptionists, cleaners, etc. Their employment is decentralised and within the authority of individual departments.
3
GOM (1991) Malawi Public Service Regulations: 3:104 (1), (2b).
4
Circular of the Secretary of the Human Resource Management, 3 November, 1997.
5
Piece-work, income source of the poorest.
6
This dichotomy is based on Weber's definiton of bureaucratic power. See Gerth and Mills (1948: 197).

-43-

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