Chaotic scenes that led to 20 deaths and loss of property in the July 20 2011 anti-government demonstrations left an indelible mark on the citizenry in Malawi, with businesses and some private schools suspending operations in the wake of Thursday’s consumers’ protests.
Business is likely to be slow across Malawi as consumers take to the streets to protest the current economic hardships and petition the Joyce Banda administration to review some of the economic reforms currently being undertaken.
Despite Malawi Police Service national spokesperson Rhoda Manjolo guaranteeing security on Wednesday, Independent Schools Association of Malawi (Isama) said classes will be suspended if demonstrations take place.
Isama president Joseph Patel said in an interview: “We cannot risk it. We deal with students who deserve maximum security and we do not want to take chances. We know what happened during the last  protests and we fear a repeat of that.
“If by close of business today [Wednesday], the position is that the demonstrations are going to take place, we are advising our members to suspend classes.”
In Lilongwe and Blantyre, some private schools have already advised students not to report for classes, according to notices sent to parents and guardians.
However, it is expected to be business as usual in public schools in Mzuzu and the surrounding areas as Mzuzu district education manager (DEM) Anna Sichinga said schools will be open unless advised otherwise.
Bankers Association of Malawi (BAM) president William Chatsala said on Wednesday his association was yet to meet to make a position.
But insiders at some commercial banks said memos were circulating advising staff to report for work, but to be extra careful. The memos also indicated that should the situation turn violent, the banks will close for business, said the insiders.
Limbe Business Community chairperson Altaf Mahomed said in an interview his organisation was liaising with the police to tighten security because they do not want to close their businesses.
He said: “We are hopeful the demonstrations would be peaceful. Peace is important to our nation. We have asked police to be on alert and we expect those involved in the demonstrations to be responsible.”
But Manjolo said there was no cause for alarm because police, as it has always been, will be there to provide security to protect property and life.
The architect of the demonstrations, Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director John Kapito, called for peaceful demonstrations and assured the business community, including the banks, not to panic.
Said Kapito: “I ask all consumers to be responsible in this noble fight. We must exercise this constitutional right to express ourselves responsibly. I know the bad picture of last year’s July 20 is there, but we have been assured by police there will be no casualties.
“We have deliberately taken routes where business is not conducted. In Blantyre, we will march from Kanjedza Primary School into the Kenyatta Drive through Chinyonga to Kwacha Roundabout via the Army Camp to Civic Offices to present our petition.”
In Lilongwe, there will be no marches through any of the streets within the City of Lilongwe, according to Central Region organising committee chairperson Hebrews Misomali who said instead the demonstrators they will assemble at the Lilongwe district commissioner’s (DC) office building where they will present the petition to the DC.
He said the decision not to march came after “lengthy” discussions between the organisers and the authorities who included the police.
Said Misomali: “For the past four days, we have been locked up in meetings with police and other authorities and decision was made that the demonstrations should be scaled down because of security consideration since we have a visiting president [Mwai Kibaki of Kenya] in the city.”
In Mzuzu, the march will start from Mzuzu Stadium to Mzuzu City Council offices using a route far from any economic activity such as banks, shops and the market.
The petitioners want President Banda to reverse floatation of the kwacha; declare her assets; and stop frequent local and external travels, among others.
But Banda has openly declared she cannot reverse the kwacha floatation, cannot declare assets and stop travelling.