Despite firing tear gas widely believed to have worsened the situation, an internal Malawi Police Service (MPS) probe report has blamed organisers for the July 6 stampede that killed eight people at Bingu National Stadium.
The investigative police report, which The Nation has seen, has faulted the organisers of the 53rd Independence Anniversary Celebrations of contributing to the stampede for changing the opening time of the stadium from 6am to 10am.
According to the report, the main factor leading to the stampede was the delay in opening the gates at the BNS as per order by the organising committee.
Police findings show that the organising committee, comprising Cabinet ministers and senior government officials, ordered the gates to be opened at 10am instead of 6am as announced earlier at a press briefing by chairperson of the main organising committee, Joseph Mwananvekha, who is also Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.
Reads the report in part: “The delay in opening the gates was the main factor that led to the stampede since the gates were opened around the time set by the main organising committee.
“The occurrence of the stampede is attributed to decisions made at preparatory stage as opposed to the actual execution of the preparation [on the day of the event].”
The report also said while police officers were deployed on time, the delayed opening of the gates led to crowds becoming too big for them to effectively manage.
In the report, the police justifies the use of teargas, saying the deployed team lacked proper equipment to manage the numbers and they did not call for standby teams.
Reads the report: “
“The use of tear gas was a justifiable tactical option as it helped to stop the stampede and enabled police officers gain access to the casualties, had tear gas not been used, the stampede would have led to more deaths, in other words, the use of tear gas saved some lives.”
In an interview yesterday, MPS national spokesperson James Kadadzera confirmed the findings of the inquiry, but said that is the view of MPS.
Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi, who is also the spokesperson for the Independence Day Celebrations Main Organising Committee, refused to take questions on the findings by the police, saying they are set to release a report on the same on Tuesday (today) afternoon.
In its recommendations, the MPS has called for an active advisory role during organisation of public events to adequately consider threats to public security.
The inquiry further recommended the review of the public order management curriculum to adequately incorporate first aid skills to enable police officers effectively deal with situations where emergency services are not available.
Apart from a task force the President gave 14 days to probe the stampede, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) is also carrying out a separate probe whose conclusions and recommendations will be issued at a later date, according to the organisation’s executive secretary David Nungu.