Mangochi religious leaders speak against political violence

A group of religious leaders in Mangochi have condemned continued political violence that has characterised the anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations since announcement of results of the May 21 2019 tripartite elections. 

But Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) have reacted to the stance taken by the religious with indifference.

MCP publicity secretary Rev Maurice Munthali has faulted the religious leaders for not appreciating that people have a constitutional right to demonstrate while HRDC spokesperson MacDonald Sembereka has advised them to stop taking sides in the country’s politics.

The condemnation by the faith leaders come barely days after police officer Usumani Imedi from Mauni Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Makanjira in Mangochi  was  killed in the line of duty at Msundwe in Lilongwe.

It also comes in the wake of a social media posting alleging that Mangochi people want to avenge Imedi’s death.

Speaking, on Friday, during a press briefing, the religious leaders, who gathered under the banner of ‘Mangochi Interfaith Dialogue’, called on the leadership (HRDC, MCP and UTM to stop holding demonstrations.

“These demonstrations are fuelling violence. This is the observation we have made. Therefore, we call upon Mr. Timothy Mtambo from HRDC, MCP’s Lazarus Chakwera and UTM’s Saulos Chilima to stop holding the demos until the elections case is concluded,” said the dialogue’s leader Peter Likagwa.

He said people have rights to demonstrate whenever they feel something has gone wrong, but condemned the spate of violence and looting that have characterised the demonstrations.

“We have been keeping quiet but after seeing these continued deaths, looting of people’s property, burning of shops and other ugly scenes, we have failed to hold our temper; hence, the decision to have this press briefing,” said Likagwa.

One of the group’s executive members, Sheikh Fahad Kamsuli, who is Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) chairperson for the district, dispelled the social media speculation of vengeance, saying people in the district desire to preach peace.

He then appealed to influential people such as chiefs, religious leaders, civil society organisation and the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) to join hands and find a lasting solution to the political impasse.

He also urged people in the country to refrain from hating each other due to differences in political affiliations, tribes and religions.

“We are all Malawians. It’s time we got united,” he said, calling on youths to stop being used by politicians for their selfish motives.

But, in an interview on Saturday, Reverend Munthali faulted the request by the religious leaders, saying it is made out of ignorance, because the Constitution does not bar demonstrations.

“These religious leaders I think don’t know the laws contained in the Supreme Book of the land [Constitution]. The Constitution mandates citizens to hold demonstrations when dissatisfied with something. Now, who are they to stop us?” he challenged, adding that no one is above the law.

He also schooled the faith leaders that the demonstrations being conducted in the country are about forcing Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Ansah to resign after presiding over an election which was marred by fraud, not the issue that is in court, insisting that the two things are independent from each other.

On his part, HRDC’s Sembereka said it is time for religious leaders in the country to see things on both sides.

“They have always been condemning us but how many times have they appealed to Jane Ansah to resign for mismanaging the elections?” he asked.

He added: “They could as well target government to listen to the cries of Malawians.”

Efforts to get a reaction from UTM spokesperson Joseph Chidanti-Malunga proved futile as he could not be reached on his mobile phone.

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