Civil society activists yesterday forced the closure of Game Stores, Shoprite and Pep Stores in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu as consumers joined hands in a peaceful boycott of South African-owned shops and products.
While Game Stores and Pep Stores remained closed for the entire day, Shoprite opened its shops later in the day but with a heavy police presence.
Led by the Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama), the boycott, dubbed ‘Black Friday’, intended to show solidarity with Malawian victims of xenophobic attacks in South Africa. So far, three Malawians are among the eight foreigners killed in violent attacks targeted at African migrants.
Thousands more have been displaced, lost their property and others injured as South Africans have taken the law into their hands to drive off African migrants.
John Kapito, the executive director of Cama, said the boycotts were also an expression of sympathy with the Malawian victims.
In Blantyre, there were more armed police officers at Chichiri Shopping Centre than protesters who arrived in a Cama-hired lorry at about 10am.
There was no confrontation, though, as protesters simply chanted and danced while displaying placards with protest messages.
“We are angry that innocent Malawians are being killed in South Africa. Today, we do not want these shops to open,” a protestor said.
Peter Mangani, deputy commissioner of police for the South, said in an interview at the shopping centre that the huge police presence was meant to ensure peace and order at the centre.
“We are here to ensure that some unscrupulous individuals do not take advantage of this [boycott] to cause chaos and damage property,” he said.
Other shops at the centre opened for business, but patronage was poor.
Other businesses in Blantyre with links to South Africa such as Old Mutual, Standard Bank and food franchises Debonairs Pizza and Steers also operated normally.
In Lilongwe, Kapito and activist Billy Mayaya led a delegation that urged Shoprite managers, amid a heavy police presence, to close.
When the Weekend Nation crew visited the shops around 11am, the two were in talks with managers, who later announced to customers to vacate as the shop was being closed immediately.
In a press statement issued on Thursday, government has said its position is to give a chance to dialogue with South African authorities over the xenophobic attacks in that country.
“The President [Peter Mutharika] stated a few days ago that he has opened communication lines with his South African counterpart President Jacob Zuma on this matter within the Sadc [Southern African Development Community] framework,” Minister of Information Kondwani Nankhumwa said in the statement.
Nankhumwa was, however, quick to state that the Constitution grants people freedom of speech and the right to hold peaceful demonstrations.
At the moment, government is repatriating 3 200 Malawians who were affected in the South African anti-immigrant attacks which started in the port city of Durban about three weeks ago.
The second batch of 509 victims was expected to arrive in Blantyre yesterday. The first group of 390 arrived Monday night.
In Lilongwe, Kapito and his group struggled to have the Shoprite shop located at Gateway Shopping Mall closed down, but he described the boycott as a success.
“This is a cause, we are saying people must not buy goods which are housed by South African shops. This is a boycott, a reaction to what they have done to our fellow Malawians, Africans. This is only for today.
“As you can see, people are really shunning the shops, Game Stores and Pep Stores did not even open this day, so yes, it has been a huge success,” he said.
Hundreds of Malawians trek to South Africa every year in search of jobs. A majority of these migrants travel without proper documents.