The Public Affairs Committee (PAC) yesterday met President Lazarus Chakwera at Sanjika Palace in Blantyre where the quasi-religious body presented a progress report on conflict resolution efforts on two sensitive religious issues.
The issues involved a billboard erected by Islamic Information Bureau in Blantyre which some sections of the Christian community felt was in bad taste and ordered its pulling down.
The second issue was on dress code where Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) wants female Muslim students to be free to wear hijab—Islamic head gear—in government and Christian schools.
According to a prepared statement we have seen, PAC chairperson Monsignor Patrick Thawale told the President that their report was a follow-up to an earlier meeting with him on August 6 2020 in Lilongwe.
The President, who quit the pulpit to join frontline politics in 2013, had asked PAC to update him on religious intolerance, especially on the billboard dispute, which was a hot issue then.
“Your Excellency, the second aspect is the fact that the issue of the dress code was not finalised last year because of our focus on elections,” he said.
Thawale said since the advent of multiparty system of government in the country, religious and cultural intolerance have been observed.
He said: “In 2019, dress code also emerged as a trigger of conflict between Muslims and Christians. In 2020 Fresh Presidential Election, the issue of faith arose as a campaign tool.
“In July 2020, an advert placed on a billboard around Maselema in the city of Blantyre became a trigger to a dispute between two faith groups. Having failed to settle the matter at local level in Blantyre, PAC was called upon to mediate on the issue.”
Thawale cited the mediation in which government, through Ministry of Civic Education and National Unity, participated.
The PAC board, he said, heard from representatives of MAM and Evangelical Association of Malawi, which demanded that the billboard be pulled down. He said relevant stakeholders concerned with the erection and removal of the billboard were engaged.
PAC told Chakwera the conflict resolution team found removal of the billboard as a solution.
On dress code, PAC told the President that a joint technical team comprising Muslims and Christians, seven from each side, was established to dialogue on general dress code in schools.
PAC said the matter is more complex than what the eye can see, adding it cannot be rushed although they intend to do this within the shortest period.
In an interview yesterday after the meeting, PAC executive director Robert Phiri said the President commended the quasi-religious grouping for the approach taken and that the matter was resolved amicably.
He described the meeting as cordial.
Presidential press secretary Brian Banda was not available for comment on the President’s side.