Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has apologised to the Catholic Church and distanced itself from remarks by one of its officials who on Sunday dragged head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, into local politics.
DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi, himself a Catholic faithful who also attended the party’s rally in Blantyre’s Bangwe Township on Sunday where one Hophmally Makande attacked the Pope, yesterday said the party regretted the sentiments and unreservedly apologises to the Catholic community.
He said: “We have issued the statement after one of our members injured the Holy Father [the Pope]. We in the DPP sincerely apologise and we will make sure he [Makande] is disciplined. We cannot tolerate such attacks on any individuals, let alone the Holy Father.”
Dausi, who is also Minister of Information and Communications Technology, said the party will summon Makande to a disciplinary hearing over the issue.
During a maiden rally Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Kondwani Nankhumwa addressed in his capacity as DPP vice-president (Southern Region), Makande attacked critics who argue that President Peter Mutharika, 79, should retire due to old age and pave the way for younger leaders. He said if Mutharika is old and not fit to lead, the same should apply to the Pope who is 82.
Clad in DPP colours, Makande was heard addressing the televised rally: “A Dausi muli pompano… Anthu akuti a Mutharika atule pansi udindo chifukwa akula. Kodi Papa [Pope] ali ndi zaka 10? Papa ndi wamkulu kuposa a Mutharika ndiye ayambe ndi Papayo kutula pansi udindo wake. [Honourable Dausi, why are people asking President Mutharika to retire on the basis of old age when the Pope, who is order than Mutharika, is still in-charge?].”
Makande was apparently reacting to earlier calls by some of the then DPP national governing council (NGC) members who formed what was called the ‘Chilima Movement’ that attempted to lobby Mutharika to handover leadership to Vice-President Saulos Chilima, 45. The members and Chilima eventually left DPP and regrouped into a new political grouping called United Transformation Movement (UTM) which the Vice-President is set to lead in next year’s presidential race.
During the Sunday rally, no one directly chided Makande although Nankhumwa, in his address, urged politicians to stick to issues rather than personal attacks.
Yesterday, Dausi defended the party officials’ failure to immediately censure Makande at the rally, saying they were in a state of shock; hence, needed time to recover and consult.
He described Makande’s remarks as “retrogressive, inappropriate and disrespectful”.
In a separate interview, Makande yesterday apologised for the remarks, but said he regretted that the intended message was misconstrued.
He said: “What I wanted to say was that the Catholic Church is the best in terms of moulding individuals spiritually and physically. So, I first apologise for that statement and withdraw it.”
Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) spokesperson Father Henry Saindi yesterday said he was yet to be guided on the church’s reaction on the matter following the DPP statement.
He said: “I will still have to be guided by the bishops. So, I need more time.”
But political analyst Eddie Kalonga of the African University in Lilongwe yesterday dismissed Makande’s reaction as insincere, arguing it was prompted by the need to pacify the Catholic faithful.
He said: “It is because we are in the peak season of campaign and political parties are canvassing for votes. These reckless statements can divide people… I find the apology not genuine. There is a sense of cheating there.”
While the ECM spokesperson said he needed more time, it was apparent that the fallout following the remarks was immediate as Radio Maria, a radio station owned by the Catholic Church, yesterday scheduled a special programme to discuss the statement. There has also been widespread condemnation of the remarks on social media.
Makande’s remarks are not isolated as in recent weeks some politicians, especially in the governing DPP, have personally attacked their political opponents.
For instance, DPP regional governor (South) Charles Mchacha insulted Mulanje West legislator Patricia Kaliati, formerly a DPP heavyweight now secretary general of UTM, in the presence of her husband and Mulanje Pasani legislator Angie Kaliati, at a rally addressed by the President. He said Kaliati, whom he asked to stand at the podium, had “married a fool”.
The President has also been faulted for using language with the potential to fuel violence such as “ndikunyenyanyenyani [I will break you into pieces]” and “I will drop on you like a tonne of bricks”.
Ironically, the President has threatened to invoke Section 4 of the Protected Flag, Emblems and Names Act against his critics, including Chilima. But lawyers and a political commentator have described the law as archaic.