Members of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on Saturday turned a taxpayer-funded relief food distribution event political when they threatened to cause havoc if Balaka West legislator Patricia Shanil Dzimbiri did not leave the venue.
Dzimbiri, a former first lady who won the parliamentary seat on an independent ticket in the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections but recently joined the newly formed United Transformation Movement (UTM), turned up for the relief food distribution exercise to about 726 beneficiaries at Kankawo Primary School ground as member of Parliament (MP) for Balaka West Constituency.
The function was organised by the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) and presided over by Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha.
Tension started building up hours before the ceremony started as some DPP members, clad in their blue party colours, demanded that Dzimbiri should leave the venue or they would cause problems.
The DPP members were overheard uttering provocative statements and chanting songs demeaning Dzimbiri who visibly remained calm and collected at the venue.
One of the DPP members explicitly outlined Dzimbiri’s crime at the top of his voice: “She is supposed to go. Since she joined UTM, we can no longer trust her. She has been castigating government.
“Let her go or else patelera pano [there will be trouble]. They [Dzimbiri’s supporters] are large in numbers, but we [DPP] have the handcuffs… Let them retaliate and they will end up in prison.”
But Dzimbiri, who was married to former president Bakili Muluzi, remained calm in an interview.
She said she was shocked that DPP operatives decided to turn the Dodma event into a political arena when she, as legislator for the area, single-handedly reported to Dodma that hunger was biting in Balaka District.
Said Dzimbiri: “I am wondering why the DPP zealots want me out of this place. Why would they do such a thing? I am a sitting MP and I didn’t come here [to the function] on my own, the minister [Mwanamvekha] invited me.
“I have driven from Lilongwe just to be here. This is not good. If I leave this place and my supporters learn about it, things will get out of hand. So, I am going nowhere.”
The tension eased after the intervention of representatives of the Malawi Police Service (MPS) and Dodma officials that saw DPP supporters eventually accepting that the legislator should be present at the function.
However, the compromise was that the official programme be amended to exclude the legislator for the area and only have the Dodma Principal Secretary and the minister as speakers.
In an interview later, DPP Balaka district governor Francis Mangadzuwa said they did not want Dzimbiri at the venue because she has been attacking the DPP administration in her speeches at UTM rallies addressed by the country’s Vice-President Saulos Chilima and broadcast live on private radio and television stations.
He said: “We protested her presence because of the way she speaks. This woman doesn’t speak well of the President [Peter Mutharika]. She always finds something negative to say about the presidency and that is the reason we were wondering why she wanted to be part of this relief food distribution exercise.”
Dzimbiri, alongside Balaka North legislator Lucius Banda and Mulanje West MP Patricia Kaliati, are among parliamentarians who have joined UTM that is promoting Chilima’s presidential ticket in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
Chilima fell out of favour with Mutharika—who picked him from the private sector where he worked as Airtel Malawi managing director to be his running mate in 2014—in June this year when he quit the governing party.
Dodma is distributing 432 729 bags of maize (21 636.5 metric tonnes) to 432 729 food-insecure households in Blantyre, Neno, Chiradzulu, Mulanje, Thyolo, Phalombe, Mwanza, Machinga, Mangochi, Balaka, Zomba, Chikwawa, Nsanje, Karonga, Mzimba, Rumphi, Chitipa, Dowa, Mchinji, Kasungu, Ntchisi, Dedza, Ntcheu, Lilongwe, Nkhotakota and Salima districts.
During the 2017/18 farming season, Malawi experienced prolonged dry spells and a severe outbreak of fall armyworms which rendered an estimated 3.3 million households food-insecure.