By Feston Malekezo, Rebecca Chimjeka & Jameson Chauluka:
Two days of demonstrations and vigils which Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) organised from Thursday to Friday bore two outcomes by close of business Friday: peaceful exercise of the right to demonstrate in Lilongwe City while Mzuzu City registered sporadic cases of violence including vandalism of public property.
The demonstrators were largely peaceful in Blantyre City, which faced its first hurdle on Thursday when City Fathers denied organisers permission to go ahead with the activity, except for one occasion close to Ginnery Corner when police fired teargas canisters at
demonstrators when the situation threatened to get out of hand.
In Zomba, there were no organised protests yesterday but some shops in the old capital remained closed, as some traders adopted a wait-and-see approach.
However, it was, as has become customary during each round of demonstrations, a different case in Mzuzu City, where demonstrators turned violent. Initially, the demonstrators were marching to the city’s Civic Offices but their intensions were thwarted by Moyale Barracks soldiers, who were all over the place in the Green City.
As protesters were getting back to their respective areas of residence and work, some decided to vent their anger on public infrastructure.
One of the casualties is Chibavi Police Unit, which has been torched and ransacked— those who pounced on it going home with teargas canisters.
In Mchengautuba, some demonstrators mobbed the house of former Minister of Labour, Grace Chiumia.
Earlier, HRDC Northern Region Coordinator, Happy Mhango, disowned the violent demonstrators, saying they planned to hold demonstrations in Mzuzu on Thursday only.
Business was at a stand-still in the city as government offices, private institutions, shops and most filling stations remained closed to the public.
In Blantyre, protests started from Kamuzu Upper Stadium down the Masauko Chipembere Highway to Blantyre Central Business District and back to the stadium.
However, the demonstrators did not present any petition to public officials, having done so immediately after, in the afternoon, the High Court in Blantyre granted HRDC permission to go ahead with demonstrations on Thursday.
The situation nearly got out of hand when the marchers pelted a ministerial vehicle with stones at Bestobell Bus Stage along the Masauko Chipembere Highway.
Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers provided security to the protesters as police officers followed the procession of protesters at a distance of 100 metres or so.
Business was brought to a standstill in the city, with shops closed, a development that culminated in traffic jams.
On their way back, the protesters removed Southern Region Police Headquarters and Malawi Broadcasting Corporation signposts, accusing the former of failing to protect them and the latter of bias.
Malawi Congress Party vice president Sidik Mia, UTM vice president Michael Usi and other political leaders took part in the demos.
The two leaders hailed the MDF soldiers for protecting the protesters, saying they showed utmost professionalism in their work.
“May the good God give you more wisdom. I am a civilian but I will salute you,” said Mia, taking off his cap.
In Lilongwe, people concerned with how Malawi Electoral Commission Chairperson Justice Jane Ansah managed election results on May 21 ended their two days of demonstrations and vigil before the scheduled 4pm.
A spate of ugly scenes emerged after HRDC Chairperson Timothy Mtambo prematurely called off the vigils at noon as opposed to 4pm as initially scheduled, with scores of demonstrators pelting vehicles with stones.
Others targeted shops in the administrative capital. The situation forced many businesses, including commercial banks, to close prematurely.
Police officers had to use teargas to disperse angry crowds who had gathered around Bwalo la Njobvu.—
But Mtambo expressed satisfaction with the turn of events, overall.
“We have had successful demonstrations and a vigil from Thursday to Friday. Our message is clear: Jane Ansah must resign and, if she does not, then more demonstration are expected next week from July 8 to 12,” said HRDC Chairperson Timothy Mtambo.— Additional reporting by Mandy Pondani and Jarson Malowa
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