Friday, July 22, 2011

The Quest for Real Freedom: Counting the Dead in Malawi

Malawi is busy counting the dead.
After two days of protests against government impunity, sanity has returned to Malawi’s cities of Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Zomba and Blantyre.
Most of the people who took part in the protests have gone back home, too; save for at least 18 people confirmed dead, and the 100 who are admitted in Malawi’s hospitals.
Many people sustained injuries, and, according to Ministry of Health spokesperson Henry Chimbali, of the 180 who reported to public hospitals with various degrees of injuries, 80 returned home after receiving treatment.
The dead sustained head injuries and fractures, Chimbali said.
But all this damage to life, and property, could not have happened had government listened to the voice of reason, and allowed the peaceful demonstrations to go unhindered, says Human Rights Consultative Committee chairperson, Undule Mwakasungula- one of the organizers of the demonstrations.
All was set for the demonstrations by Tuesday evening, and this was affirmed by a Police Statement paving room for the demonstrations. The Police only urged for peaceful demonstrations.
However, just an hour before Mid-night, a government agent obtained an injunction that stopped the peaceful demonstrations but allowed President Bingu wa Mutharika’s Public Lecture to go unabated.
This, Mwakasungula said, made it too late for organizers to communicate with marchers in time. He blamed it on government.
Government had tried hard to stop the demonstrations by, among other things, mounting a media propaganda that targeted chiefs to speak against the demonstrations.
State-run Malawi Broadcasting Corporation also announced repeatedly in its news bulletins that, contrary to public views, the demos were planned to advocate for gay rights.
Some people believed this, though many still turned up for the demonstrations.
Government spokesperson, Information and Civic Education Minister Symon Vuwa-Kaunda, had ganged up with Mutharika’s spokesperson Hetherwick Ntaba a day before the demos, and warned that all costs for damaged property would be forwarded to Leader of the Opposition in Parliament John Zenus Ungapake Tembo.
Tembo’s sin had been to express his intentions to be part of the demonstrations.
However, as lawyers battled to vacate the injunction refraining demonstrators from going on with the protests, Tembo was at his home in Nyambadwe Residential Area, Blantyre.
Tembo said: “I am waiting for the injunction to be vacated. But I think you have also heard Vuwa-Kaunda saying I will be responsible for any damage. What wrong have I committed?”
But other opposition leaders turned up for the demonstrations. These included Former Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha, People’s Progressive Movement president Mark Katsonga Phiri, United Democratic Front factional president George Nga Ntafu, and presidential aspirant Atupele Muluzi, People’s Transformation Party president Kamuzu Chibambo, among others.
Musicians also turned up, including the ‘Linda’ star Marco Sadiki.
Human rights activist, and Human Rights Consultative Committee Board Member Kenwilliams Mhango, Malawi Human Rights Watch’s Billy Banda, Rafiq Hajat of the Institute for Policy Interaction, Unandi Banda, Malawi Law Society President John Gift Mwakhwawa, and influential lawyer Ralph Kasambara were all there at Victoria Old Town Hall in Blantyre as lawyers and judges tussled in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe to have the injunction vacated.
In Lilongwe, Police officers started it all by beating civil society leaders and journalists, forcing people onto the streets.
These people went on rampage, literary, and broke into shops. They set tyres ablaze on the roads, they smashed cars.
In Blantyre, things got loose only when the injunction got vacated and people started marching peacefully. The Police, for no apparent reason, started firing tear gas, and things went asunder.
Others said Police officers received such orders because the protesters took the road that also houses the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s Southern Region headquarters.
But these fears were not entirely unfounded. Some protesters were heard whispering that they go and set the DPP office ablaze.
Among other places, protesters broke into a Bata Shoe Company shop in Blantyre, and stole assorted items.
The police were, however, alert and managed to arrest two people found with shoes on the spot.
In Blantyre’s most populous township of Ndirande, things went asunder as people started stoning the People’s Trading Centre shop there, and set grass-thatched business stalls ablaze.
But the Police were quick in their response, and no damage was inflicted on the PTC building.
However, at least two people died in Ndirande, and these are the people this Blogger saw with his two eyes.
But that is Ndirande for you, people always go on rampage at dusk fall, and Nyambadwe Police officers know this pretty well, and are always at hand to quell the situation.
President Bingu wa Mutharika took his time roughly after 1 O’clock to address Malawians.
He regretted the mayhem, but blamed it on the opposition despite the protests being organized by civil society leaders.
In the end, he appealed for dialogue and said he was ready to meet civil society leaders and opposition party Czars.
But Mwakasungula was dismissive of the President, saying such meetings brings no fruitful results.
“We have met the President before; but, all the time, nothing fruitful comes out of such meetings. Dialogue is a song to him (President Bingu wa Mutharika),” said Mwakasungula.
Government played dirty tricks before, during and after the demonstrations. It all started with sentiments from officials like Ntaba and Vuwa-Kaunda, propaganda by MBC Radios and Television, pronouncements by buy-out traditional leaders, and the late-night injunction.
Government agents also interrupted internet services with the technical assistance of Mainland China officials. Two Chinese ICT experts jetted into Malawi on Saturday last week, and left on Thursday.
This made it difficult to access such websites as Nyasatimes using computers. Some Blogs were also inaccessible.
What’s more? It was even difficult to upload stories on some sites, thanks to government’s subversion.
What has come out clearly is the fact that President Bingu wa Mutharika did not know Malawians well.
Malawians can die, so long as their voice is heard.
They did the same when freedoms never existed in 1992 and 1993.
At the height of former President Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, people defied the odds, and even their chances of life, and marched in the country’s biggest protests ever.
They succeeded. And the one party regime is a song now, history.
The freedoms that came in 1994, which freedoms are being infringed upon by President Bingu wa Mutharika’s regime, did not come on a silver platter.
People paid with the cost of their own blood.
And souls.
On Wednesday, through to Thursday this week, some 18 people have also paid for whatever freedom may come with their own blood: blood shed in day light.
Blood shed for Dear Malawi.
All in the hope that one day, light will shine again.
This light will shine and its rays reflect against the great red Katondo soils.
This light, one day, will shine on people lips, too.
This light.
Paid for by glittering blood.

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