Some people that attended President Joyce Banda’s meeting at Goliati in Thyolo on Sunday have blamed Health Minister Catherine Gotani Hara for provoking the fracas in which police superintendent Cassim Julius and Aaron Sawerengera, a civilian, died while others, including MBC reporters, sustained injuries.
According to random interviews The Nation conducted among people that attended the meeting, Gotani Hara’s remarks raised people’s tempers, leading to their stoning of police officers who were providing security at the rally. The police are said to have retaliated by firing tear gas and later shooting at the people after they reportedly ran out of teargas.
Hara and government spokesperson Brown Mpinganjira could not pick their phones on the allegations yesterday.
But People’s Party (PP) deputy spokesperson Ken Msonda wondered whether the United Democratic Front (UDF) president Atupele Muluzi also provoked the people when his convoy was attacked at Bvumbwe, Thyolo, in January 2012.
The people are said to have been infuriated by Hara’s remarks that if one is a doctor, it does not automatically mean that one’s brother would also be a doctor.
Her statement was interpreted to mean that Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Peter Mutharika could not be a president on account of his brother, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, also being president of the country.
“As a result of this statement, a number of people who are not PP members, but attended the rally were provoked,” said one man who opted for anonymity.
This was corroborated by a number of people that were interviewed at Goliati and surrounding areas yesterday, including a chief who attended the meeting.
“Goliati is a stronghold of DPP. Hara should have followed what other speakers did at the rally by focusing on issues,” said the chief.
According to reports, Sawerengera was shot behind the house of Chrissie Samson, about 500 metres from the trading centre while the police officer was stoned to death outside the house of Estere Makolija, an elderly woman who sustained a wound on the leg after being hit by a stray stone.
People in the area also claim that PP members tore a DPP flag at Nthundu and a DPP cloth that was on a laundry line at Maulidi area on the way to Goliati.
“Although we saw all this, we did not do anything, but we could not take it any more after the minister’s sentiments,” said one man.
A statement issued by police yesterday said the deceased villager was shot at by a police officer in self-defence after another officer had been injured on the head and was lying unconscious.
“The police did all it could to minimise the use of force for a sustained period. It is regrettable that at the end, our officer had to use such force as was necessary in self-defence,” reads the statement in part.
Associate professor in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at Chancellor College, a constituent of the University of Malawi, Happy Kayuni, said authorities need to be firm and act on political violence.
Meanwhile, President Joyce Banda has condemned the violence.
“I am very saddened by the death of our two citizens. My government will not tolerate such acts of political violence to destabilise the peaceful management of elections; and to threaten the peace and security of our people,” said the President.