Blantyre City Council (BCC) has refused Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) permission to hold demonstrations to force Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah to resign, citing lack of crowd control by organisers.
But Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba city councils have given the civil society grouping the go-ahead to hold the demonstrations on strict conditions that there will be no violence or looting of property.
In an interview yesterday, BCC chief executive officer (CEO) Alfred Chanza said the council will this Friday be busy with mayoral elections.
Besides, he said HRDC will only be allowed to hold demonstrations after paying K9.5 million to cover damage caused during the June 20 2019 demonstrations in the city.
In a letter to HRDC dated July 17, Chanza further said the previous protests demonstrated HRDC’s failure to control the crowd as some protesters did not stick to the agreed route. Further, he said the demonstrations were hijacked by some politicians who were not party to the agreement.
He said: “Thus, your lack of control over the organisation and leadership of demonstrations essentially means the council is dealing with a faceless mob, resulting in anarchy, yet you continue presenting yourselves as conveners of demonstrations in the city.”
But HRDC Southern Region chairperson Masauko Thawe, who submitted the request to BCC, said in an interview yesterday that they were still strategising on how to deal with the Blantyre situation. Ho wondered why Chanza’s management has reservations with demonstrations.
He said: “This is the third time he is rejecting our notice. We don’t know what he really wants. But Malawians should not be worried, protests are a right and we will make sure that such a right is enjoyed.”
In Lilongwe, the city’s CEO John Chome met HRDC leadership yesterday morning and thereafter outlined conditions for the protests through a letter.
He said HRDC should provide 100 marshals who will put on yellow reflector vests for easy identification and that the demonstrators will peacefully disperse after delivery of the petition.
In his letter, Chome also appealed to Malawi Police Service (MPS) to provide the required security services to maintain peace, law and order.
He said: “Participants in the demonstration shall not infringe on the rights of any other road users. The organisers will take liability of any consequential incidences arising from the demonstration.
“The Malawi Police Service shall exercise its powers to any demonstrator instigating chaos, violence or any act contrary to the dictates of peaceful demonstrations as well as conducts contrary to the agreements made herein.”
Mzuzu City Council CEO Macloud Kadammanja said the council met the HRDC leadership to get feedback on his letter that proposed postponement due to a Mzuzu University graduation ceremony.
He said: “We do not have the mandate to stop them from going ahead with the protests. All we do is offer advice. As a council, we offered advice that they should give room to Mzuzu University for the graduation, but the HRDC told us that they will proceed.
“They assured of peaceful protests, so they will go-ahead. Our job is to advise and that is what we did. But they have said they will continue, so that’s it.”
HRDC Northern Region chairperson Happy Mhango said postponing the demonstrations in Mzuzu posed greater danger.
He said: “I just want to make it clear that we will not go to Mzuni to disturb their graduation. We will stick to our route and all those that will decide to go out of this route will face the military and police. That will not be on us. We don’t want criminal acts.”
In the old capital, Zomba, the council told HRDC leadership led by Eastern Region chairperson Madalitso Banda that police will arrest anyone engaging in violent acts.
In an interview, Banda said the protesters will comply with the terms of the letter, but stressed that HRDC has always been peaceful and do not condone violent as well as criminal behaviour.
On Wednesday, National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said the law enforcers were ready to provide security on the day.
“The police have always been ready to provide security. Let me call on everybody who wants to take part to be peaceful and I am glad that the organisers have always emphasised the need for peace,” he said.
Meanwhile, governance and policy analyst Rafiq Hajat of the Institute for Policy Interaction has said the protests are an expression of a belief by people in the existence of a case on the issue.
HRDC deputy national chairperson Gift Trapence also contends that the demonstrations are sending a strong message to Ansah and President Peter Mutharika.
During the protests of July 4 and 5, criminal acts and looting marred what organisers said would be peaceful demonstrations. Some shops in Lilongwe City Centre were smashed while some roads in town were blocked and tyres burnt; In Mzuzu and Karonga, government offices were burnt and property stolen and some individuals affiliated to the governing Democratic Progressive Party were also targeted.