A misdirected teargas canister accidentally lands in a police vehicle, a panick-stricken officer and others jump for their lives and then hell breaks loose and one of the hunters becomes hunted with stones, earning himself a hospital bed.
This is a tale of a police officer on duty to quell violence in Lilongwe city streets on Friday, but ended up being hospitalised at Kamuzu Central Hospital.
According to the officer we met at his hospital bed—with a swollen head and a conspicuous wound on the forehead–Sergeant Dzulani Eneya of Lilongwe Area 3 Police was stoned as he tried to jump from a police vehicle where one of them had ‘wrongly’ fired a tear gas canister which ended up hurting officers more than the targetted demonstrators.
“He wanted to fire tear gas at the protesters—but ended up hurting us in the car. We were forced to jump from the car. I fell down, due to the impact of the teargas and from nowhere, someone stoned me on my forehead. It was terrible. I bled heavily. My friend has been discharged but I am still not feeling okay as you can see,” explained the officer, who appeared to be in pain and quiet troubled.
“I have a wife and children and their lives depend on me. I am now in hospital and so many things suffer. I am in pain. I can’t sleep. It is sad that things have reached this level that we [police] have ended up being targets by the very people we sacrifice our lives to protect,” he added.
Generally, during protests there was bad blood between protesters and police.
HRDC vice-chairperson Gift Trapence on Saturday once again distanced his coalition from any vandalism—saying those that damaged property and harassed people were criminals outside their match.
Asked if the HRDC regretted to have organised the protests, which turned ugly in some places, Trapence said the demonstrations were a success; hence, the organisers are proud of Malawians for exercising peace.
“Generally, we are happy that Malawians understand their role in a democracy. Thousands and thousands of demonstrators have been very peaceful. Malawians have sent a message that they are not happy. It is sad that some criminals took advantage of the situation to loot and destroy property.
“This goes back to our security agents. What was their plan? We have the security agents on the route. Nothing was damaged on the route. Any damage outside our route had nothing to do with the demonstrations. We hope security agents will arrest all perpetrators of crime,” he said.
The Malawi Defence Force (MDF) has enjoyed respect from the people than the police, a situation which some have interpreted as soldiers siding with protesters.
During the protests, the sight of MDF officers has brought chants of praise from the protesters.
In an interview, a security expert at Mzuzu University, Eugenio Njoloma, said it is not surprising that people have low confidence in the police. He said this is because the police is more inclined to serve partisan interest.
“The problem, I think, is extreme political force exerted on police by the ruling power. Experience reveals how the institution has been used and abused by ruling regimes in furthering their political interests. This weakens the institution and drains its integrity before the masses” he argued.
Asked on what the Mzuni lecturer makes out of the MDF involvement which is somehow viewed as pro-protesters, Njoloma said MDF enjoy some respect, hence their involvement is key especially where the situation gets out of hand.
“MDF’s involvement cannot be criticised. They seem to command significant respect from the citizens. People have trust in them. Experience shows the army has often stood, not really in support for people’s actions like demonstrations, but in support and to safeguard people’s rights in line with the Constitution.
“So, the army’s involvement is critical because it reinforces the people’s will to express their rights in an environment where people have little trust for police, who should have apparently been in the forefront in safeguarding people’s rights,” he added.
In a telephone interview on Saturday, National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera insisted that regardless of public perception the police are committed to ensuring that law and order prevail in the country.
He said those that have broken the law during the demonstration will face the wrath of the law.
Kadadzera said the police are not intimidated by public action, which has led to the injury of one officer, adding that the perpetrators of violence will be hunted and brought to book.
The report on the commission of inquiry on July 20 2011 demonstrations, which equally turned ugly, leading to loss of life and property, faulted the police for use of excessive force. The commission recommended for improved capacity of the police in crowd control management skills.
But Kadadzera said the police have enough capacity to handle any situation which demands their intervention including demonstration.
Njoloma insisted that the challenge with the police is not about lack of capacity in crowd control management.