The High Court in Blantyre, in a judicial review case, has agreed with claimants who protested erection of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Blantyre that it would remind them and others of the racist views held by the person honoured by the statue.
The claimants initially sought an injunction last October against Blantyre City Council (BCC), stopping works already underway at Ginnery Corner to erect the statue of the man, his real name Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, an Indian anti-colonial nationalist who employed non-violent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India’s independence from Britain.
Following the challenge by Pemphero Mphande and Mkotama Katenga Kaunda against BCC’s decision, the matter came for the judicial review and the defendants in the matter were the council and the Attorney General (AG).
Justice Mike Tembo, in his judgement, agreed with the claimants that they would not have challenged the naming of a street in Blantyre after Gandhi, as defendants had argued, prior to 1994 when multiparty politics and human rights came into being in Malawi.
The court further agreed with the claimants that the fact that there is a road named after Gandhi did not diminish the gravity of the violation herein considering that the road signage is less compelling in terms of effects on the claimants compared to the statue that would command the view of the area where it was intended to be erected.
“That would not sit well with the dignity of the claimants and those like them who know what racist statements the one honoured by the statue said about black people and what views he held about black people,” Tembo said.
The judge condemned the council to pay the costs of the successful claimants to be assessed by the Registrar of the High Court and Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal.
The judge said he needed to point it out that there was no evidence proffered by the claimants to show that the AG made any decision that could be subject of judicial review in this matter as Civil Procedures Rules require that on a judicial review application, a party that is alleged to have made a decision or should have made the decision be named as a defendant.
The court discharged the AG from the proceedings and left the council as the only defendant.
The claimants feared erection of Gandhi statue was to injure their feelings as black Africans and as bona fide taxpaying citizens, and argued that government owes them a duty to secure their social and psychological well-being.
The council, through its director of administration, Lytton Nkata, had argued that since time immemorial, the Government of India has had mutually beneficial relations with the Government of Malawi to the extent that many Indian national have made Malawi their home and have become Malawian citizens or permanent residents.
He said in 2018, the Government of India approached the Malawi Government with a proposal to add the honour of Gandhi by erecting a statue at the junction where Mahatma Gandhi road starts, from Queen Elizabeth Hospital Roundabout through College of Medicine up to CI.