There was anxiety in Blantyre on Friday when journalists waited for nearly seven hours for a joint Malawi Police Service (MPS) and Malawi Defence Force (MDF) press conference to update the nation on the prevailing security situation following the two-day demonstrations.
The two State security organs were scheduled to update journalists at 9:30am at the Central Office of Information (COI) before they shifted it to 10.30am.
However, the clock kept ticking with no-show from the two public institutions’ officers until 16.24pm when they arrived.
All along, director of information in Ministry of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Gedion Munthali kept assuring the distressed journalists about the conference’s proceeding.
Then, National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera, accompanied by Southern Region Police spokesperson Ramsey Mushani and MDF spokesperson Paul Chiphwanya, told the weary but alert journalists the briefing was jointly organised by the two institutions.
Kadadzera further said he would just read a statement, headlined ‘Condemnation of violent acts during planned demonstrations’ and would not taker questions on the issue thereafter.
However, despite Kadadzera’s declaration that the briefing was jointly organised, the media statement only had an MPS letterhead. It was also only signed by Kadadzera on behalf of his Inspector General Rodney Jose.
When quizzed after reading the statement why MDF was not part of the signatories, Kadadzera hastily dismissed the observation saying: “Just get what you have been told [that it is a joint statement].”
In the statement, the police said they had noted with concern social media propaganda by unknown people who are dragging the two security agents into politics.
It said the propagandists had misinterpreted the security agents’ actions during the demonstrations as siding with certain political groups.
“These perceptions that have the capacity of creating social disorder are wrong and will not be tolerated… The general public is requested to desist from using public security organs as tools to advance their political wishes by positing unverified information on social media,” reads the statement in part.
As the journalists waited for the briefing, protesters on Blantyre streets refused to be escorted by the police during their protests against Malawi Electoral Ansah.Commission (MEC) chair Jane
This came a day after alleged Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cadres beat up some demonstrators in full view of the police, until MDF soldiers came to their rescue.
On Friday, MDF troops patrolled the streets of Blantyre, receiving chants of Boma! Boma! from the agitated crowd.
A group of about 3 000 protesters took to the streets in Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) organised demonstrations aimed at forcing Ansah to step down.
According to one of the protesters, People’s Party (PP) executive member Joseph Chikwemba, the marchers were against the idea of allowing the police to escort them when on Thursday they were to blame for not stopping assault on the protesters.
He said: “What the people have resolved is that they do not need any police escort. The fact that protesters were beaten on Thursday by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cadets in full view of police officers has eroded people’s confidence in them.”
Demonstrators in Blantyre who were in uncompromising mood stormed the streets at around 10am going through the Masauko Chipembere Highway where they threw stones at police officers on sight.
When they arrived at the Sanjika Palace intersection in Blantyre central business district, a splinter group went forth to attack DPP offices at Sunnyside where they were repelled by riot police and DPP supporters who were standing sentry at the offices.
MDF soldiers had to stand in between the protesters and DPP supporters who had mobilised across Mudi River past Victoria Hotel, as a potential street fight was imminent.
Among those that attended the protests included Malawi Congress Party (MCP) running mate Sidik Mia, the party’s director of campaign Moses Kunkuyu, UTM vice-president Michael Usi and the party’s patron Noel Masangwi.
A day before Independence Day, the mass demonstrations persisted in other parts of the country as well. Business was at a standstill, and offices were closed, with heavy police and army presence countrywide.