Demonstrations pushing for the resignation of Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson Jane Ansah turned chaotic yesterday as marauding mobs went on the rampage, torching offices and looting shops and offices.
While the Blantyre leg of the protests organised by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) was virtually peaceful, the situation was different in Mzuzu and Lilongwe.
The demonstrators in Mzuzu torched governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regional offices, Chiputula Police Unit and Mzuzu City Council Health Department office situated at Mzuzu Stadium.
During the July 4 to 5 protests, Mzuzu was yet again a centre of destruction as sections of protesters burned public property including a building housing Treasury Cashier’s Regional Office (North).
In Lilongwe, some of the protesters broke into an electronics shop and walked away with laptop computers and other electronic appliances. They also broke into a motor vehicle tyres dealer at Bisnowaty complex where they some were seen taking away brand new car batteries and used tyres which they used to block the road at the roundabout near Parliament Building.
Besides, the damage in Lilongwe also affected ADL House, Ministry of Information and Japanese Embassy. Some protesters were also seen removing road signs along the Presidential Drive.
A liquor shop in Lilongwe’s Area 12 was also broken into and some youths were seen taking away the alcohol stock which they were later seen selling among themselves.
In Mzuzu, Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers swiftly moved in to save the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services regional offices from damage after the protesters pulled down its gate.
What had started as a peaceful march at Katoto Secondary School ground became tense after some demonstrators diverted from the designated route and headed towards Mzuzu University (Mzuni) in Luwinga in an apparent attempt to join forces with Mzuni students and some protesters who had gathered in the Luwinga Industrial Area.
But their plot was foiled as MDF soldiers barricaded the M1 Road at Lunyangwa Bridge near Chinese Garden, a situation which forced the marchers to invade Chibavi and Chiputula townships.
The predominantly youthful group then joined forces with hundred others who had swarmed the dual carriageway Orton Chirwa Highway towards Mzuzu City Council Civic Offices to deliver their petition.
But things turned ugly when a group of the marchers started throwing missiles at police officers guarding Mzuzu Police Station, a development that prompted the police to fire tear gas.
The marchers scampered to safety. Some of them escaped to Hilltop Township where they ransacked houses of DPP regional governor (North) Kenneth Sanga and another senior DPP official, Joyce Chikukula.
The tear gas police fired affected both civilians and MDF soldiers.
HRDC member Charles Kajoloweka accused police of igniting the violence after they fired tear gas at the protesters who were heading to the civic offices.
He said: “This mess has been caused by the police. They fired tear gas when people were marching peacefully. So, whatever people destroy in the locations it is police’s fault.”
Kajoloweka, who led the marchers in delivering the petition, said the protests will not stop until Ansah steps down “even if it means two years”.
In an interview, Sanga blamed organisers for failing to control the marchers to stick to the designated routes.
“This is savagery,” he said. “Do demonstrations have to take place in our houses? A demonstration has a specific route. But now these demonstrations have started taking place in locations, targeting individuals. What kind of demonstrations are these?”
Sanga said DPP will hold organisers responsible for the damage.
He said: “[HRDC chairperson Timothy] Mtambo has to explain to us. My house has been attacked, Chikukula’s house has been attacked apart from government buildings and police.
“We have been attacked very badly. Imagine hundreds of rioters descending on somebody’s house!”
Northern Region Police spokesperson Peter Kalaya said the protesters provoked the situation by throwing missiles at the police who retaliated by firing tear gas to restore order. Additional reporting by Enelless Nyale, Staff Reporter