Government says the erection of the Mahatma Gandhi bust in Blantyre will strengthen good relations and benefits between Malawi and India.
The India Government proposed to erect Gandhi’s bust on the junction of Mahtma Gandhi Road and Masauko Chipembere Highway in Blantyre, but thousands of Malawians have signed a petition against the move citing recent revelation that Gandhi, a world known civil liberty activist and Indian nationalist, was a racist.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Rejoice Shumba said the bustwill promote Gandhi’s values of simplicity, social uplifting and the fight against social evils.
In response to a questionnaire on the protest against the erection of the bust, Shumba said government was aware of the petition but that it was not spending a penny on its construction.
She said: “Malawi Government accepted a request from the Indian Government to construct the Mahatma Gandhi Square in recognition of his contribution to the fight against colonialism and promotion of human rights and social development for the underprivileged.”
Shumba said it was important to note that the government of India has provided a grant of $10 million (about K7.3 billion) for the construction of the Mahatma Gandhi Convention Centre at Chichiri, Blantyre opposite Golden Peacock Five Star and International Convention Centre.
She said the Indian Government was constructing nine Mahatma Gandhi Convention Centres in nine African countries including Zambia and Uganda.
A group of protestants have argued that Gandhi’s dark side has influenced African countries to repudiate the idea of placing his bust on African soil, citing Ghana and South Africa where his statues were removed.
Member of the group that initiated the #GhandiMustFall petition, Mpambira Aubrey Kambewa, said they will not relent in ensuring that they achieve the group’s objectives.
He said: “We shall do so within the confines of the democratic values and principles of our nation even if the government is not doing so in return. Our government has long overlooked the views and needs of the public in return of promoting agendas that might have direct benefits to a few elites within it.
On her part, Ombudsman Martha Chizuma Mwangonde said in an interview yesterday that on issues of national importance such as this, Malawians have the right to be informed and also to express their opinion.
She said: “I strongly feel this is what should happen in this case. This is something they will have to explain to their children forever.
“No one is perfect. And so if people feel that they can ignore the alleged racist tendencies ahainst black people in the face of his fight against colonialism, let the statue be erected. But if the people think that such are unacceptable, then regardless of who is funding the project, let us not erect the statue as that would be an insult to the psyche of the nation. We are a democracy now.”
In his remarks, former minister of Justice Henry Phoya, who is also a Blantyre resident, has joined those protesting the erection of the bust, saying doing so is regrettable.
He said: “In my view, before agreeing to the proposal to erect this monument, the authorities should have consulted widely and carried out research on the correctness of constructing such a monument in one of our major cities.
“At this stage, and since it would appear that the erection of that monument is tied to the construction of a facility for us by the Indian Government, the best that the authorities can do is to have the monument constructed within the premises of that facility.”
But human rights lawyer Justin Dzonzi said government needed to justify the statue.
“I think what is an issue here in Malawi is perhaps what is making it necessary for the statue of Mahatma Gandhi to be erected here, because we do not have any political history with India as such.
“That lack of justification would be a better argument than that you cannot erect it because Gandhi expressed these feelings,” he said. n