With just four days before the planned anti-government demonstrations scheduled for this Friday, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has warned city councils not to thwart efforts by the group to hold peaceful protests.
As of yesterday, only Mzuzu City Council (MCC) had given permission for the demonstrations while Blantyre, Lilongwe and Zomba city councils were yet to respond to the HRDC‘s notifications.
In a telephone interview yesterday, HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo said the councils’ silence was raising serious questions on their intentions.
He said: “We will continue with the demonstrations. The law is clear, we just notify them, we do not need permission from them, we just need their cooperation. If they decide not to cooperate, let them be, but they are obliged by the law to provide security. No doubt, there is political interference, but that will not stop us from making progress.”
On his part, HRDC spokesperson Gift Trapence said they had notified all city councils of their intentions to conduct peaceful demonstrations.
“We warn the councils not to sabotage the demos and refrain from infringing the rights of Malawians in freedoms of assembly and expression,” he said.
In an interview yesterday, Blantyre City Council (BCC) chief executive officer Alfred Chanza expressed ignorance of any formal communication from the group.
He said: “I am yet to see their letter. We are also just observing things from the media. I am told they do not need permission from anyone but just notification, so I cannot say anything concrete.”
However, BCC public relations officer Anthony Kasunda said the council will respond to the notification, but could not explain the delay.
“The council will respond as it has always done when such requests are made,” he said, but refused to comment on claims of political interference, stating: “I have no comment on those fears.”
In a separate interview, Zomba City Council spokesperson Mercy Chaluma said the council was yet to receive a fresh notification from HRDC.
“What we have is only a letter informing us of the cancellation of the earlier planned demonstrations. But as for the planned demos for this coming Friday, we are yet to get any form of communication. Perhaps that will be done early this week,” she said.
Attempts to speak with Lilongwe City Council publicist Tamara Chafunya were futile as she did not pick her mobile phone.
But Trapence insisted the group communicated to all the four councils in writing and produced copies duly stamped by the councils, including that of Zomba City.
In Mzuzu, there seems to be some progress, but the city council and HRDC Northern Region chapter are yet to agree on the route that the demonstrators should use.
MCC CEO McCloud Kadam’manja confirmed receiving the letter from HRDC in a brief telephone interview yesterday.
“We have a meeting on Monday [today] to discuss how we will play our role as city council. There will be allocation of routes d. The letter of notification came last week and we have no problem at all,” he said.
According to correspondence we have seen, MCC and police do not want the Katoto-Clock Tower-Court House route on the basis that it will disturb rehabilitation of the Mzuzu Highway, but HRDC insists on using the same.
HRDC North chairperson wrote MCC CEO Kadammanja on September 13 2018 that they would not change the Katoto Grounds via Clock-Tower Roundabout and High Court Roundabout to Civic Offices.
” We are of the view that a 2-hour event of national importance like this one would not really disrupt the construction work currently in progress,” wrote Mhango.
Documents we have seen indicate that HRDC sent notifications to the councils on September 3 2018, and all four councils acknowledged by putting a stamp on the documents.
The demonstrations, whose theme is Restoring our Destiny, are a follow up to HRDC’s April 27 ten-point petition against poor governance which the group claims government did not fully address.