Police, MDF in demo crackdown

There was heavy presence of police officers and Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers during yesterday’s Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC)-led demonstrations in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu.

However, the protests, themed The 3 Million March for Justice and Freedom, fell short of mobilising the millions it had set out to attract.

By the time the march started in Blantyre at around 8.45am, there were over 15 police officers and MDF soldiers outnumbering the protesters. The numbers slowly picked up along the way, but they could not match the crowds that have characterised recent demonstrations.

Lilongwe marchers accompanied by heavy security

HRDC had earlier announced that yesterday’s protests would be a continuation of the demonstrations they have held since the announcement of the presidential election results in May 2019, aimed at forcing Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah to resign for allegedly presiding over a flawed election process.

HRDC also wants Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director Reyneck Matemba to reveal the names of people involved in the judges bribery saga, as well as a swift conclusion to Msundwe investigations.

During the march, some protesters chanted anti-Jane Ansah songs while others were seen dancing to songs that were playing on a public address (PA) system on an open van trailing them.

About 11 security vehicles accompanied the marchers in Blantyre—with five belonging to the MDF while the rest were for the police.

There was no violence during the demonstrations, but some shop owners took precaution by closing their businesses in the morning hours. As soon as the protests were over at around noon, business return to normal.

For example, at Chichiri Shopping Mall where the protesters had gathered before and after the march, the main entrance was  closed with police officers and MDF soldiers guarding the premises while shops within the mall continued to operate.

The Blantyre protests, led by HRDC chairperson (South) Masauko Thawe, ended around 12.36pm when people dispersed after a short briefing.

Asked why they did not submit a petition to Blantyre City Council, Thawe said the messages they are putting through have been delivered to government on numerous occasions before.

He said: “Apart from demanding the resignation of Jane Ansah, we also want the ACB to reveal names of people who are suspected to have attempted to bribe the judges who are handling the elections case.”

Like Blantyre, there was tight security in Lilongwe and Mzuzu, with the demonstrations going on peacefully.

However, protesters in the capital city marched from Lilongwe Community Ground at Old Town to deliver a petition to ACB demanding the anti-graft body’s director to name the people alleged to have attempted to bribe judges in the presidential elections case.

Five judges, namely Healey Potani, Ivy Kamanga, Dingiswayo Madise, Redson Kapindu and Mike Tembo finished hearing the presidential election petition case on December 20 2019 and said they would make their ruling within 45 days.

While the marchers braved the rains in all the cities to ensure their voice is heard, others were busy calling on potential customers to buy their merchandise especially at Lilongwe Main Market.

In Mzuzu, the protesters marched peacefully and delivered the petition at civic offices. It was only after they had dispersed that some protesters started looting and throwing stones at property.

Meanwhile, Chancellor College-based political analyst Ernest Thindwa has said violent demonstrations are a function of numerous variables ranging from organisation competence of organisers and security agents, political culture and climate to intentions of participants in demonstrations, security agents and authorities among other determinants.

He said: “The demonstrations are not dependent on the court ruling. HRDC has consistently said they want to hold MEC commissioners accountable for what they perceive as irregularities in the management of the electoral process.”

On his part, University of Livingstonia political analyst George Phiri described the ongoing demonstrations as still relevant, as HRDC has been saying that their demonstrations were aimed at forcing Ansah to resign.

“They are two different issues. They did not take Ansah to court so these should not be mixed. The demonstrations are still relevant,” he said.

Another Mzuzu-based political analyst Emily Mkamanga also observed that the demonstrations are still relevant: “If the people keep quite it might look like they have chickened out. They need to demonstrate until their call is met.”

HRDC has since announced that another demonstration will be held on January 27 in Chitipa to force government to act against illegal foreign miners in Itulo.

Additional reporting

by Enelless Nyale

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