Scores of stewards and police officers are every weekend hired by football authorities to provide security at football matches.
They are trained in crowd control tactics that can be used to subdue trouble-makers, like breaking through the crowd with the objective of snatching and arresting one or more individuals regarded as ring leaders.
However, at the slightest sign of trouble, the police officers at matches fire teargas.
Last week, the Police’s action to use teargas at Kamuzu Stadium after an arrest of a 21-year-old phone robber suspect went wrong, drew the wrath of many.
A peaceful game between Mighty Wanderers and Moyale Barracks inside the stadium, was thrown into confusion as players, fans and officials ran for safety after teargas canisters fired outside filtered into the stadium.
Wanderers chairperson, George Chamangwana, felt the police could have used other means to quell the situation.
“We don’t know what really happened outside the stadium to call for the firing of teargas. We would have loved if there was another way to quell the situation,” he said.
Sulom treasurer, Tiya Somba- Banda, who was present during the match, said it was difficult to issue instructions to police.
“Police are trained for such cases. They are the experts and if the situation demanded police to use teargas canisters we can’t blame them,” he said.
Somba-Banda said they had examined the police report and that the situation required excessive force.
“Remember the chaos started outside the stadium and it was not football violence. Some thieves wanted to take advantage of the game to steal items from cars parked outside the stadium and other alleged thieves were spotted trying to steal cell phones from people on the queue,” he said.
According to a police report on the stadium incident, officers were deployed inside and outside the stadium to make sure the security of the people was not compromised.
“During the second half of the match a gang of criminals outside the stadium ganged up in order to be stealing cell phones from members of the public. During the 55fh minute of the game or thereabout, these criminals stole a cell phone from someone. A Police Officer, from Police Mobile Service B’ Division approached the scene to confront the situation.
“The development angered the criminals who eventually attacked the officer up to the extent of wanting to snatch from him a rifle. In self defence, the rank released a bullet which subsequently landed on the abdomen of the suspect, Karim lshmael, aged 2l years of Ndirande Township,” reads part of the report.
The police report stated that teargas was released to quell the situation and halt action which could have resulted in more violence
“An effort to arrest the accomplices proved futile as the gang of criminals were apparently joined by other people who were outside the stadium. These people started throwing stones at the Police Officers and vehicles around the stadium. Notably, two vehicles were damaged, one of which is the service vehicle from B’ Division, MP 2246 whose windscreen was extensively damaged. The other vehicle, a white saloon, owner was yet to be identified as he has not yet reported the matter to the Police,” the report read in part.
When asked if there was no other means of quelling crowd trouble at the stadium other than use of teargas, Police spokesperson Rhoda Manjolo, said police assess the situation on the ground before deciding their next course of action.
“We are empowered by the Public Act to respond according to the situation on the ground. In that case, people had started rioting outside Kamuzu Stadium as some people joined thugs to stop the police from carrying out an arrest. The situation outside the stadium was scary as the criminals attempted to snatch a gun from a police officer,” she said.
Manjolo said police had used other means of enforcing peace without firing teargas and bullets to quell the situation.
“Those that are honesty will appreciate that the police did everything possible to contain the situation without firing teargas. However, when the situation got out of hand, that is when teargas was fired,” she said.
Despite its popularity among Malawi police officers deployed at matches, teargas is a chemical agent banned in warfare per the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which set forth agreements signed by nearly every nation in the world including Malawi.
“The use of tear gas in situations of civil unrest, however, demonstrates that exposure to the weapon is difficult to control and indiscriminate, and the weapon is often not used correctly,” wrote Howard Hu in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1989.
“Severe traumatic injury from exploding tear gas bombs as well as lethal toxic injury have been documented.”
Hu found that if exposed to high levels of teargas, some victims experienced heart failure or even death.
“An infant exposed to teargas in a house into which police had fired canisters to subdue a mentally disturbed adult, developed severe pneumonitis requiring therapy with steroids, oxygen, antibiotics, and 29 days of hospitalisation,” Hu wrote.
Apart from its healthy effects, firing teargas into a crowd in a closed space, often results in a stampede and loss of life.
In February, 2015, in Egypt a stampede, ensued after teargas was fired, killing 40 people at the Air Defence Stadium, during a game between Egyptian Premier League clubs Zamalek and ENPPI.
Back home, it’s also all too familiar after a fan, Lemiyasi Josita, died at Balaka Stadium during a 2013 TNM Super League decider between Mighty Wanderers and Silver Strikers after police fired teargas into the crowd to quell opposing supporters’ fight.
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