Over 5 000 people took to the streets yesterday in Mzuzu, chanting songs against President Peter Mutharika and his government for failing to address various socio-economic challenges affecting the country.
The protests did not leave anyone behind. The old and the young, mostly dressed in red attire, carried placards displaying the many challenges that the Mutharika government has brought and was failing to solve.
A two-kilometre walk— from Katoto Primary School to Civic Centre —took the ‘red sea’ almost two hours, as the marchers made stopovers at every institution they had concerns with.
For instance, at Mzuzu Clock Tower, the protesters sat down, symbolically to cry over government’s handling of the K4 billion payout to members of Parliament.
In the cries, they accused Mutharika of trying to compensate legislators who had helped his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regime to reject the Electoral Reforms Bills in November.
“Munkhwala muvipatala tilije, vyose tikugomzga madona! Mukiba kale kufuma mu CDF, sono mwati mwibeso K4 billion, mwabankhungu imwe timalanenge namwe [We have no drugs in hospitals, we rely on donors. You already stole from the Constituency Development Fund, and now you want to steal K4 billion, you thieves! We will deal with you!],” they chanted in Tumbuka.
Others claimed in their cries that the DPP government has specialists in stealing public money.
After the Clock Tower stopover, the marchers converged on the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) office in Mzuzu, where they demanded an explanation for persistent blackouts.
Without being violent, they wondered why Escom bosses failed to tell the nation the truth that diesel generators the firm imported would not help the situation but only make people dig deeper into their pockets on bills. They then threatened to organise other protests specifically for Escom if the situation did not improve.
At the Northern Region Police Headquarters, the protesters accused the police of killing Polytechnic student Robert Chasowa, and that the current acting Police Inspector General Rodney Jose must not be confirmed.
They shouted: “Apolisi, munapha Chasowa, a polisi ndinu akupha! Jose zikumukhudza izi! Lero musatiombelenso ngati 20 July, kapena salary yanu imakwana?
[You the police killed Chasowa, you are murderers! Jose is involved, don’t even dare shoot us today as you did on July 20 2011. Maybe you are happy with your meagre salaries?]”
The route for the demonstrations ended at Civic Offices, but some protesters insisted on going to State-funded Malawi Broadcasting Station (MBC) studios at Kaning’ina, asking authorities why they are always biased.
One of the protest organisers of the Charles Kajoloweka said Mutharika was busy compensating ‘criminals’ instead of using the money to bail out the country from poverty.
He said civil society organisations (CSOs) will not relent in their fight to improve the lives of the voiceless in the country.
“These people don’t listen, and if they don’t act on these issues, we will continue protesting until we are heard. Rodney Jose [Acting Commissioner of Police] must be fired within 10 days, so too ministers Kondwani Nankhumwa [Local Government] and Goodall Gondwe [Finance] for their roles in the K4 billion scandal.
“We are tired of this impunity, tired of this nonsense, tired of leaders who think they are above the citizenry. We put them in office, and we have the right to check what they are doing,” he said amid applause.
Mzuzu City Council chief executive officer MacLoud Kadam’manja, who received the petition, said he would deliver the document as requested.
Arrests and vandalism
However, the peaceful protests took a dirty turn. After delivering the petition, some protesters started pulled down billboards carrying the face of Mutharika.
They tore down the billboards and DPP flags at Mzuzu Shoprite Roundabout while chanting that the President was responsible for the suffering of Malawians.
Others wanted to vandalise some shops close to the main bus depot. It took police invention to quell the situation.
Meanwhile, police in the city have arrested 17 individuals who wanted to take advantage of the protests.
Northern Region Police publicist Peter Kalaya said those arrested acted after the CSOs had delivered the petition and will be charged with malicious damage and conduct likely to cause breach of peace.
“The demonstrations were very peaceful because of the coordination with CSOs. But there are some people who wanted to take advantage of this, and we have arrested them. These people acted after the demonstrations,” he said.
Protests in Rumphi
In Rumphi, over 300 protesters marched peacefully from Bumba Teachers’ Development Centre to Rumphi District Council offices.
They made a stopover at the Boma, where Rumphi Residence Association chairperson Moir Mkandawire addressed the demonstrators and hundreds of onlookers on issues they want government to address.
Then, they proceeded, while chanting songs against Mutharika and ministers Gondwe and Nankhumwa, asking them to step down.
They also carried anti-government placards, calling on the Mutharika government to stop practising nepotism and to improve power supply.
Anglican priest, Father John Welano, who led the demonstrations in the district read the petition and presented it to Rumphi district commissioner (DC) representative Allan Chitete. n