Anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations organised by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) ended in an anticlimax yesterday in Blantyre when police fired tear gas to disperse protesters.
After marching through Blantyre central business district (CBD) since the start of the protest at Kamuzu Stadium Upper Ground around 9am, demonstrators tried to make their way to Limbe at around 3pm.
This would have been the first time for the protests to be held in Limbe since the start of the ongoing nationwide protests on June 20 aimed at forcing Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Ansah to resign for allegedly mismanaging the May 21 Tripartite Elections.
However, Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers stopped the angry protesters at Chichiri, fearing a clash with governing Democratic Progressive Party sympathizers and a potential security breakdown.
This did not go down well with a large section of the demonstrators who in return stopped taking instructions from HRDC Southern Region chairperson Masauko Thawe who had asked the people to present a petition at the Civic Centre, about 100 yards away from the place where MDF soldiers had stopped them.
At about 3pm while Thawe and a few other people proceeded to deliver the petition to Blantyre City Council’s director of administration Lyton Nkata, a rogue group started going back to Blantyre when police fired tear gas at the crowd near Southern Region Police Headquarters.
But MDF soldiers intervened to separate the stone-throwing crowd from the police although the rescued protesters had to be dispersed by the same MDF soldiers hardly half a kilometre down the road when they started pelting stones at shops at Ginnery Corner.
In an interview after the march, Thawe, who praised the general conduct of the demonstrators, disowned the group that had a confrontation with the police.
He said: “As far as HRDC is concerned, our march ended the moment we delivered the petition. Whatever happened afterwards, we cannot [be accountable for it]. That can only be tackled by security agencies.
“We know there is a group of people that wants to give the demonstations a bad name. But they will fail.”
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said he could not take questions as he was still on the ground, monitoring the security situation. He said the police would issue a statement about the day’s events.
Business was at its lowest in Blantyre with shops along the route of the march closed, including banks, some of which made prior announcements about their impending closure.
Addressing the protesters at the start of the March, UTM Party president Saulos Chilima, who was accompanied by other UTM officials, including his vice-president Michael Usi, party patron Noel Masangwi and secretary general Patricia Kaliati, praised the High Court’s decision earlier in the day to dismiss the Attorney General’s application to declare the demonstrations illegal.
“The ruling this morning is a big boost to the country’s democratic rule. Anyone who cannot support democratic principles should just step down. These demonstrations will not stop until what we are demanding happens. No one should ever dare to stop us again now that the court has put its weight on this,” he said.
As they marched through the Masauko Chipembere Highway, traffic was disrupted with protesters occupying both sides of road, closely watched by MDF soldiers.
They danced and sang anti-Ansah songs with speeches from HRDC and political leaders punctuating the march up to Blantyre Magistrate’s Court.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) vice-president Sidik Mia also joined the protesters alongside the party’s campaign director Moses Kunkuyu.
In his remarks, Mia applauded the people for making the demonstrations possible. “This is a day of rage. People have come out to show their anger at this government. We will not stop until justice is done. It is apparent that people in this country are getting angrier each passing day,” he said.