President Joyce Banda’s threats to deal with her detractors have been met with condemnation as they threaten people’s freedom of expression.
On Sunday, during the elevation of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kapeni to senior chief in Lunzu, Banda threatened those against the elevation, saying, Yerekezani kundiwowoza muyenda pa machira muwone (Just dare boo me and you will leave this place on a stretcher).
Although People’s Party (PP) spokesperson Hophmally Makande played down the remarks as those from a mother censuring irate children, some commentators have warned that such remarks could incite violence against the President’s detractors.
The High Court in Blantyre stopped the elevation of T/A Kapeni pending an inter-partes injunction hearing but the ceremony went ahead.
Perhaps in response to the audible dissent from the Kapeni family which has challenged the elevation of Ben Mtuwa to senior chief, Banda said at the function that protests would change nothing because they should have been done when Mtuwa was first appointed T/A.
But Civil Society Grand Coalition spokesperson Chris Chisoni said the remarks could be misconstrued by party zealots as a sanction for violence.
“In the context of the tense political climate we are in, politicians need to be sober and not incite violence. Such words could be inflammatory and party zealots could understand their political master differently and punish those [who want to exercise] their freedom of expression,” said Chisoni, who is also national coordinator of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP).
A political commentator Mustafa Hussein said the reaction to Banda’s remarks which might have been humorous, clearly indicated that leadership should be sensitive and careful with language.
“Political leaders need to be extra sensitive and censure their language which could be misinterpreted,” he said.
But Makande said as a true democrat, the President could not stifle the freedom of her own people.
“I don’t think the remarks were meant to incite people to violence. In fact, she said those words to stop booing which could have resulted in a fracas like stoning,” he said.
In the months before his demise, late president Bingu wa Mutharika became synonymous with public utterances against his detractors among them civil society leaders during which he asked them to use whatever means necessary to protect him.