Since Malawi attained its independence way back in 1964, it has always commemorated Martyrs Day, which founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda declared that it be held on March 03, 2020.
At the dawn of multiparty, one leader went out of his way to try and erase the significance of the day from the memory of Malawians but that was not to be as a majority had already realised how important that selfless act in 1959 which those noble men and women and children who were shot dead in cold blood by the British Army had done, meant for the country.
Theirs was part of the struggle to unshackle Nyasaland from the chains and pangs of colonial rule.
And so, on March 03 this year, the centre of attention was Nkhata Bay District where the ‘official’ commemorations were held (well, they were branded as such despite families of the martyrs having fundraised on their own) and before we knew it, all hell broke loose when one of the legislators in the district and Minister of Lands and Housing, adha Symon Vuwa Kaunda took to the podium to address the gathering.
He was constantly booed before being forced to resume his sit, paving way for his colleague Francis Phiso who had been designated by President Peter Mutharika as his representative to preside over the event. He, too, was not spared the heckling and torment from the crowd as the people went ballistic every time he made mention of Vuwa Kaunda’s name but cheered whenever he referred to Vice President Saulos Klaus Chilima, who was in attendance but had not been accorded a chance to address the people.
Now, two things quickly raced to my mind when these developments were unfolding; firstly, the people must have been cheesed off by the fact that President Mutharika had not delegated Chilima for the function (the Constitutional Court extended both Mutharika and Chilima’s mandate for the presidency on February 03 after nullifying the May 21 presidential election).
The gesture by the President to side-step Chilima as regards who gets to represent him at the memorial event in Nkhata Bay certainly carried heavy political connotations, whether intended or otherwise hence the condemnation from the gathered crowd through jeering.
This is not to say the people were justified because, as rightly observed by Adha Vuwa, this was a somber occasion and it was supposed to bring people together and not sow seeds of discord. But the big question is; who and what triggered it all? In my view, the whole booing incident might have been avoided had the President, in delegating a representative, demonstrated a reconciliatory tone with his second-in-command by entrusting Chilima with the responsibility. Never mind the fact that the Vice President kept a cool head when asked about it after the event but, certainly, the development did not amuse the gathered audience.
It is not the first time that government has found itself in a tight spot over the issue of delegated authority, especially where the Vice President is in attendance. People still recall what happened few years ago during late Chikulamayembe’s funeral in Rumphi District where representatives of the church (CCAP Livingstonia Synod) chided government for trying to hijack the ceremony by removing those from the opposition, including Chilima who had come out full throttle with his movement back then, and had initially been included on the funeral programme.
Secondly, it could be that the community in Nkhata Bay was simply showing its frustration over government’s continued disregard of their plea for capital hill to take charge of the national event. Time and again, the committee organising the event has come short in terms of mobilizing funds and whenever they have turned to government for support, all they have gotten is a door being slammed in their faces.
But still, this by no means justifies the chaotic scenes witnessed at the memorial service in Nkhata Bay on this year’s Martyrs day commemoration. It is time as a people we became more accommodative in the handling of things, and this goes to both government and the public at large. I am sure that, unlike the Chikulamayembe funeral programme where microphones had to be grabbed from some 11th hour speakers, organisers of the Nkhata Bay event as well as President Mutharika and his cronies had all the time to possibly adjust the programme and throw SKC (as Chilima is widely referred to by his followers) in the mix. Let me give a word of advice to capital hill, you need not indulge in some needless battles because some of them can be won without even lifting a finger. It is high time the President started delegating some of his duties to his Vice President, with whom he partnered back in May 2014 general election.
These are things that matter if our gains from freedom, which the martyrs we remembered last Tuesday gave up their lives for, are to be consolidated.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).