Various speakers during Martyrs’ Day commemorations in Nkhata Bay yesterday took turns, demanding to know why President Peter Mutharika does not want to meet members of the bereaved families and why Capital Hill does not fund the annual event.
Representative of the bereaved families James Thawe, chairperson of the organising team of the event Graham Paul Nazombe, Nkhata Bay South legislator Emily Chinthu Phiri and acting Traditional Authority Mkumbira spoke in unison on their concerns.
Thawe, who was the first to speak at an event, expressed displeasure at the conduct of politicians, saying the current and previous governments have shown unwillingness to truly honour the country’s martyrs.
He wondered why there have been no efforts to help people who survived the March 3 1959 attack, whom he claimed still have gun scars.
Said Thawe: “We have been asking to meet the President for many years, but nothing is happening. Why is it that the President doesn’t want to meet us? Do you people [politicians] care that we exist? Do you know how many we are?
“Who among you has data on how many we are? You can’t know how many we are, so how will you even help us? You sleep in very good houses, do you know where those people that survived the attack stay? I tell you today, that if those martyrs wake up from their graves today, they will slap you in the face.”
Thawe, who spoke amid cheers from the audience, kept insisting that government needs to take responsibility by recognising members of the bereaved families and those that survived the 1959 attack.
Taking his turn, Nazombe said there was need for government to take over the planning of the commemorations, wondering why there is reluctance from Capital Hill to do so.
“Each year, we organise the event by asking for resources from well-wishers. But these people [martyrs] died for this country. Why is the government failing to fund the event? We want Capital Hill to take over, but before that, we want recognition of the surviving families,” he said.
Legislator Chinthu Phiri sent people into stitches when she told Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe, who was guest of honour, to take concerns from people seriously by addressing them within the “short time they have left” before the May 21 Tripartite Elections.
“Please, help the people. We cannot be talking about this now and then. I know maybe you have very little time left, but when you leave, we will ask other people in government to help us,” said Phiri, who is a member of the UTM Party.
But Gondwe, who has been attending the event for some years on behalf of President Peter Mutharika, said he would not respond to the concerns, saying, it was not the right forum to do so.
“These people took too much courage to die for us, and we are better off now than before because of them. On matters that have been raised here, I will not respond to them now. We need a better forum to address those issues.
“There have been so many governments since 1959 and I cannot answer on behalf of all of them. So, let us find a better forum to address these issues. As government, we are very ready to discuss it,” he said.
Apart from Gondwe and governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) running mate Everton Chimulirenji, other notable figures who attended the event included Vice-President Saulos Chilima who is also UTM Party president, main opposition Malawi Congress Party president Lazarus Chakwera former vice-president Khumbo Kachali, United Democratic Front president Atupele Muluzi and Minister of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development Grace Chiumia.
There were also lighter moments during the event, especially when Chilima, Chakwera, Muluzi and Chimulirenji were being saluted as the audience cheered a leader of their choice.
Opposition leaders, including Chilima did not speak at the event whose theme was Unity in Diversity is Paramount to Development in Malawi.
The event started with tour of the memorial pillar, then laying of wreaths and ended with prayers and speeches at Chirundu Point Ground.
Due to the growing strength of the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC), on March 3 1959, colonial masters declared a State of Emergency and at least 200 NAC leaders were detained.
In Nkhata Bay, NAC leaders were arrested and packed into Mpasa Vessel, ready to be transferred to various prisons. When their relatives heard about the arrests, they marched to Nkhata Bay jetty, to demand their release.
However, colonial forces opened fire and 31 protesters died on the spot.