The High Court Friday granted a seven-day injunction, stopping the government from effecting a planned 21 day lockdown.
High Court Judge Kenyatta Nyirenda granted the injunction to Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) which had sought the court’s intervention following loud outcry from the public, fearing the lockdown would lead to starvation and a collapse of their businesses.
HRDC chairperson Gift Trapence said their action was based on the government’s failure to announce any measures to cushion the poor during the lockdown.
The court has since ruled that the matter should come for inter-partes hearing on April 24, 2020.
Speaking to Malawi news, Trapence said the injunction is victory for poor Malawians.
“The decision on Covid-19 prevention should be collective decision and should not be politised. More emphasis should also be the protection of rights of poor Malawians,” Trapence said.
Meanwhile, there was commotion in the cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe as well as in Kasungu after vendors took to the streets to express dissatisfaction over the planned lockdown.
In Limbe, some vendors burned tyres and blocked roads in protest, arguing that the lockdown will impinge their livelihoods as most of them literally survive on hand to mouth.
Police had to fire teargas to disperse the irate vendors who insist the lockdown will cause them to starve of hunger.
“This is a poor country, we depend on our small businesses, we buy food every day, enough for that particular day,” one of the vendors, Kumbukani Sitima who sells fish in the market, said.
And in Ndirande, market vendors also stormed the streets and marched to Blantyre City Council offices where they chanted songs, before presenting their petition against the lockdown.
Ndirande Market chairperson, Charles Bitoni, said the vendors cannot manage to stay for 21 days without doing their businesses.
“People could have accepted to stay home for 21 days if government had provided food to each one of them for the 21 days, we do not have money to buy food that can last for such a period,” he said.
The protesters caused a traffic jam on the Ndirande- Makata Road as they also chanted anti-lockdown songs on their way back to the township.
It was a similar story in Kasungu where running battles ensued between traders and police over the same issue and three people are reported to have been injured.
The police also had to use teargas to disperse the angry protesters, and the commotion spread over to Kasungu District Hospital.
The traders, who started their protests from their business area at around 8am, stormed Kasungu District Council offices to present their petition.
Kasungu Police spokesperson, Harry Namwaza, confirmed that a number of shops have been looted, saying they are currently making an assessment.
“I can confirm that a number of shops have been looted and we have also made some arrests. But I will give you more details once we are done with the operation,” Namwaza said.
Kasungu Market Chairperson, Peterson Black, said that they will not relent until the government commits itself to supply food and other necessities should the lockdown be implemented.
“We are here to complain about the 21 day lockdown because there are no measures to cushion us because we rely on the same business for our survival. So we want the government to be providing us with the food during the days we will be home, otherwise if they will ignore this then we will not stop doing our business. Even if they deploy security personnel we will not backtrack and if it means fighting with them, we will fight on,” Black warned.
In Lilongwe, there were also running battles between the police and vendors at Tsoka Flea Market.
On Thursday, traders in Mzuzu and Mangochi also held anti-lockdown protests.
Minister of Health, Jappie Mhango, on Tuesday declared a planned 21-day lockdown from April 18 to midnight of May 9 which has since been stalled by the courts after HRDC sought an injunction.
By Friday, Malawi had recorded 17 confirmed Covid-19 cases with two deaths.
Mathews Kasanda is a journalist who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from University of Malawi (The Polytechnic).
In 2015, Media Institute of Southern Africa awarded him the Best Print Media Education Journalist of the Year accolade.
He joined Times Group Newsroom in September 2019.