Chaos erupted during the anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations in Blantyre Wednesday with an under-five boy reportedly dying after police officers fired teargas canisters within Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) premises while chasing protesters.
An official from Health Ministry speaking on condition of anonymity, said the boy fainted after chocking due to the teargas, before falling victim to a stampede that broke out.
“What the police have done is unprofessional. There has to be a way of controlling irate crowds who have invaded a health facility. I have witnessed a life being lost and it is not good at all,” he said.
That was not all. A pregnant woman also passed out due to the teargas, and was seen being carried into one of the wards for medical attention.
Events turned ugly as suspected Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Cadets hacked and hit with an iron bar organisers’ Human Rights Defenders Coalition Central Region (HRDC) Chairperson, Billy Mayaya during running battles with the protesters outside Chichiri International Trade Fair Grounds in Blantyre.
HRDC Executive Committee member, MacDonald Sembereka, complained that the police used unnecessary force on unarmed citizens who, he said, were exercising their Constitutional right.
“What we have witnessed today shows that the police and the DPP Cadets are the same because they both rose against the protesters and started hurting people. The most unfortunate part is that patients have been harassed, and one of our own Billy Mayaya has also been attacked,” Sembereka said.
HRDC organised the latest round of the demonstrations so as to present a petition to the ongoing 21st Annual General Conference of the Electoral Commissions Forum for Sadc Countries (ECF-Sadc) in Blantyre seeking their intervention on the political impasse in the country.
However, HRDC officials were unable to present the petition to the conference, which Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) Chairperson Jane Ansah, is chairing.
HRDC has been pushing for Ansah’s resignation, accusing her of presiding over May 21 tripartite elections whose results they say were marred by irregularities.
The protesters, led by Mayaya and Sembereka who were joined by UTM’s Micheal Usi, Allan Ngumuya and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) Campaign Director Moses Kunkuyu, kicked off on a rather peaceful note from Kamuzu Upper Stadium in the morning.
However, anugly confrontation ensued outside the Chichiri International Trade Fair Grounds after the protesters met the DPP cadets—wielding stones and knives—who blocked the way in an attempt to stop the protests.
During the clashes, the two groups started pelting stones at each other for some 30 minutes with police officers not forthcoming to quell the violence.
Things got out of hand when the HRDC group reached QECH roundabout where they started asking for the whereabouts of some HRDC leaders after reports came in that Mayaya had been attacked.
Tempers flared as some of the protesters allegedly manhandled a suspected police officer in civilian, forcing the few riot police officers in vicinity to fire teargas canisters.
“It was unfair for the police to allow the DPP Cadets to interfere with the demonstrations. Our message is clear: Jane Ansah mismanaged the elections and we do not expect her to be hosting an electoral conference. We are not against the DPP,” one of the protesters, Damson Moses, said.
National Police spokesperson, James Kadadzera, was not available for a comment whereas Homeland Security Minister, Nicholas Dausi, said he was not aware of the incident because he was in Lilongwe.
After the police dispersed the HRDC protesters, DPP Cadets took to the streets of Blantyre in an alleged impromptu march, invading Blantyre Central Business District under full escort of traffic police officers.
DPP Southern Region governor, Charles Mchacha, refused to comment on the impromptu march.
Despite the ugly scenes at Chichiri, the ECF-Sadc Conference proceeded under tight security.
Meanwhile, Sembereka has apologised to the people of Blantyre for the chaotic scenes that erupted during the demonstrations but said the coalition would not retreat in its push for Ansah’s ouster.
The protests started in June, weeks after Mec had announced the election results which saw President Peter Mutharika declared the winner of the presidential elections.
MCP and UTM are challenging the elections results at the Constitutional Court sitting in Lilongwe. The protests resumed after the expiry of a 14-day moratorium which the Supreme Court of Appeal issued for all stakeholders to come up with ways of ensuring violence free protests.
Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale’s team met HDRC leaders to agree on how to go about peaceful demonstrations. The Supreme Court was Wednesday expected to hear both parties and decide the way forward.