What started as a solemn and orderly Martyrs Day commemoration in Nkhata Bay on Tuesday degenerated into chaos as a section of the audience booed Cabinet ministers who represented President Peter Mutharika.
In the thick of the confusion, Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) leaders hijacked the ceremony towards the end purportedly to give a platform to other dignitaries who were not accorded an opportunity to speak during the official programme.
Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Francis Phiso was the guest of honour representing the President while Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Symon Vuwa Kaunda, who is also Nkhata Bay Central legislator, represented members of Parliament (MPs) from the district
Things started getting out of hand when it was Kaunda’s turn to deliver his speech on behalf of fellow MPs from the district. He was booed and some were overheard asking him to leave the microphone.
In turn, an unfazed Kaunda implored the audience to observe order, saying the event was meant to unite the country.
The minister wondered whether the people booing him had been tasked to cause havoc. He deplored the behaviour, saying it was not befitting the solemn occasion.
Said Kaunda: “Have you been sent to cause havoc here? This is not an event you should be behaving that way. Please let us show unity. This is a funeral ceremony and we cannot be having such behaviour. Let us observe order please.”
However, his pleas fell on deaf ears as the people continued booing him. Kaunda was apparently forced to cut short his speech and he invited Phiso to take to the podium with an assurance that people of Nkhata Bay are peaceful.
The people booed every time Phiso mentioned Kaunda’s name in the salutations, but cheered at each mention of Vice-President Saulos Chilima and HRDC leaders.
Phiso diverted from his prepared speech to lament the commotion at the event, saying it was disrespectful to the souls of the martyrs.
He said: “I am disappointed with the behaviour that is being displayed here. We should not behave this way at such a function. Let us conduct ourselves in a way that will honour our heroes.”
With the official event over, HRDC leaders took to the public address system and attacked government.
HRDC chairperson in the Northern Region, Happy Mhango, asked people to remain after government officials left the place to be addressed by HRDC.
He warned the Information Department against dismantling the public address equipment, saying: “This is taxpayers’ money. Don’t remove the equipment. We also have to speak. Don’t threaten us, otherwise you will be starting a battle you cannot win.
“The people who are engaged in corruption are here preaching about avoiding bribes and so forth. You are the same people wasting our money.”
Taking his turn, HRDC national chairperson Timothy Mtambo condemned the exclusion of other stakeholders in the speeches.
Speaking during the official function, representative of the bereaved families, William Kondowe accused government of failing to befittingly honour the fallen heroes.
He said the families were disappointed with the state of graves of the 31 victims buried in Nkhata Bay and the structures used to honour them.
Martyrs Day Celebration organising committee chairperson Paul Graham Nazombe also blamed government for failing to run the event.
He said it is high time government sponsored the event.
Nazombe said this year the organisers budgeted K5 million, but they raised less than K2 million. Besides the two Cabinet ministers, other dignitaries at the ceremony were Chilima, former president Joyce Banda and her husband retired chief justice Richard Banda, acting Leader of Opposition in Parliament Lobin Lowe and Malawi Congress Party second vice-president Harry Mkandawire.