What started as a peaceful demonstration against Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah ended in a nightmare for Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), when some angry protesters stoned them for dismissing a vigil they had initiated at Mzuzu Civic Offices.
Thousands of people marched peacefully from Katoto Secondary School ground to Mzuzu Civic Offices, where the protesters were to deliver a petition and demand answers on why previous petitions have not been responded to.
The protesters vowed not leave the civic offices until they get answers from government.
The agreement was that the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) or MEC were to call HRDC chairperson (North) Happy Mhango or another HRDC member Charles Kajoloweka to give feedback on the petitions, failing which the protesters would not leave the premises.
Kajoloweka said the protesters want answers from the council on where their petitions are sent.
To the jubilation of protesters, Kajoloweka warned that they would not leave until they get answers.
He said: “We have come here to stay until we get answers from government. We have made the petitions for a long time.
“If they think we are playing, we will show them. We will not leave until we get answers today.”
The protesters therefore camped at the civic offices after delivering a petition to MCC representative Yotam Mtafya during lunch hour.
But as time passed, some protesters started losing patience and were seen confronting Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers who had been providing security after the police were chased.
As an act of warning, the protesters set alight a palm tree on the civic office ground while jeering as flames consumed the tree.
MDF soldiers then restrained the protesters from setting the trees on fire or damaging property at the premises.
However, as the wait for answers continued, one of the organisers Prince Kajoloweka—a relation to Charles Kajoloweka, jumped into the back of a vehicle carrying a public address system, grabbed the mic and dismissed the gathering, saying HRDC national executive leaders were handling the issue of lack of feedback on the petitions.
He also announced that a protester was injured while MDF soldiers were controlling protesters and there was need to investigate what happened.
To avoid damages and fracas, Prince Kajoloweka asked the protesters to leave the premises for Katoto where speeches would be made.
But that did not go down well with the marchers, as some were heard shouting that they will stay put. At that point, the organisers asked MDF soldiers to help control the protesters and ensure that they leave.
Drama started when Prince Kajoloweka and other demo leaders jumped into the vehicle carrying the PA system and started driving off.
This attracted the wrath of protesters, who started throwing stones at the leaders that were in the vehicle.
The vehicle occupants had no choice but to jump out and run for their lives.
Later in an interview, Mhango said the leaders decided to dismiss the gathering because the situation was becoming volatile, as some protesters clashed with MDF soldiers.
He said HRDC did not want to be blamed for damages.
Asked if the stoning meant people felt betrayed and lost trust in the organisers, Mhango claimed he denied seeing any stoning of leaders in the vehicle.
He said: “People have not lost trust in HRDC. If they had lost trust, they would not have come in such large numbers.”
However, Mhango said the gathering was not properly dismissed, which could have created frustration.
Later he also jumped out of another vehicle, saying he did not feel safe being in the vehicle.
But contrary to the Mzuzu situation, hundreds of protesters in Karonga went ahead with a vigil at Karonga Roundabout, where they pledged to camp until Friday.
One of HRDC leaders, Steve Simsokwe, said as of yesterday afternoon, motorists were barred from using the M1, thereby blocking access to Songwe Border, save for uncharted routes.
He later said the situation turned volatile, with protesters and MDF soldiers engaging in running battles as the security agency tried to open the M1.
While HRDC had earlier announced of holding three-day protests starting yesterday, Mhango said the protests would not return to the streets this week.
HRDC vice-chairperson Gift Trapence confirmed that the coalition has cancelled the protests slated for Thursday and Friday in all citiesto allow HRDC leadership meet its legal team in Blantyre to strategise on challenging the injunction that was is restraining HRDC from holding protests in airports and borders.