By Audrey Kapalamula, Mandy Pondani & Samuel Kalimira:
There was relative peace at the start of the latest round of three-day nationwide anti-Justice Jane Ansah demonstrations Wednesday in major cities and some districts, with attacks on two journalists in Lilongwe being the only blot on the protests.
In Lilongwe, organisers of the protests, Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), engaged Parliament again through a petition seeking legislators’ intervention on their calls for Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) Chairperson Ansah’s resignation.
The protesters presented the petition at Parliament Building after having marched from Lilongwe Community Centre passing through Mchesi to Capital Hill.
Malawi Defence Force (MDF) officers provided security during the march after the protesters had chased police officers at the onset of the demonstrations.
MDF officers controlled the crowd’s movement against attacking private and public properties.
In the petition, HRDC, led by its chairperson Timothy Mtambo, included several demands asking Parliament to resuscitate electoral reforms debate, and that it should reject the appointment of Duncan Mwapasa as Police Inspector General.
“We expect that Parliament will discuss the matter beyond their political representation and interests. We will not allow justice to be compromised. Malawians want fundamental changes in laws to make sure that no one is stealing from us,” Mtambo said.
Mtambo said the coalition would continue to plan airport and border posts demonstrations.
Dowa East legislator, Richard Chimwendo- Banda, received the petition on behalf of Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani- Hara.
He said they would give the petition the attention it deserves.
“The Business Committee will make sure that the petition is tabled in Parliament as soon as possible,” he said.
During the demonstrations, journalists Golden Matonga from Nation Publications Limited and Gladys Nthenda of Kulinji were assaulted by demonstrators while taking pictures.
Mtambo has condemned the act, saying: “We have to warn them [perpetrators of violence against the journalists] that we are going to arrest them and hand them over to police enforcers.”
Media Institute of Southern Africa-Malawi has also condemned the assault of the journalists.
In Blantyre, there was a two-hour lockdown in Blantyre during the demonstrations after the angry protesters held a vigil at Kameza Roundabout, blocking roads leading to the commercial city and Chileka International Airport.
It took MDF soldiers to reason with the protestors to free the roundabout.
HRDC Southern Region Chairperson, Masauko Thawe, who led the demonstrations, said what happened was reaffirmation of the people’s anger and frustration.
“Malawians are angry. We dedicated this day to pouring out our anger, frustration and grievances on how the election was managed and the failure by Jane Ansah to resign. We are here to remind her that our demand is as fresh as ever,” he said.
This happened after business came to a halt in the morning as the protesters took their new route from Upper Stadium through Chirimba to Kameza Round-about away from their usual route of Upper Stadium through Clock Tower to Civic Offices.
Conspicuously missing during the protests were most opposition party officials. However, joining later was Louis Ngalande of UTM who hailed the protesters for keeping calm.
Some protestors in Mzuzu have said they want to hold demonstrations at Kamuzu International Airport when President Peter Mutharika returns from Unga to force him to fire Ansah.
HRDC Northern Region Coordinator, Happy Mhango, said Ansah must yield to the protesters’ demand and resign.
“She should not think that Malawians will get tired. We will still go into the streets until she resigns. What she must know is that Malawians want electoral justice back,” Mhango said.
“Malawians have lost trust in Jane Ansah and the entire Mec commissioners. Why is Peter Mutharika still keeping her? What is he afraid of?”
The protests were peaceful except when they booed police officers who came to provide security demanding that they should leave, before HRDC intervened to allow the law enforcers to do their work.
In Rumphi District, the protestors marched from Bumba School Ground, some pelted stones at public offices and blocked the road before presenting their petition to Rumphi District Commissioner (DC), Fred Movete.
Rumphi Police Officer-in-Charge, Ulemu Kaluwa, said some protestors demanded money from motorists.
In Karonga District, protestors blocked Songwe-Karonga Road by holding vigils at the main roundabout.
In Zomba, protesters marched along the main road on their way to the district commissioner’s office, amid heavy presence of Malawi Defence Force officers.
HRDC eastern region Chairperson, Madalitso Banda, said they were unhappy that Ansah is refusing to resign.
HRDC held the demonstrations after expiration of a 14- day moratorium which the Supreme Court of Appeal had ordered for them to discuss with the Attorney General on how to hold peaceful demonstrations.—Additional reporting by Jarson Malowa