- Says political parties shouldn’t divide Malawians
Estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima says he is not bothered by President Peter Mutharika’s gesture to delegate a Cabinet minister as guest of honour at a Martyrs Day commemoration event he attended in Nkhata Bay on Tuesday.
The official programme for the ceremony showed that Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Francis Phiso would represent the President as the guest of honour. Phiso was a last-minute replacement for Minister of Disaster Management Affairs and Public Events Everton Chimulirenji who until the February 3 Constitutional Court nullification of the May 21 2019 presidential election was the country’s vice-president.
Chilima—who fell out with Mutharika who picked him as running mate in the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections in a combination analysts hailed as a blend of political experience and private sector drive—said in an interview that the President has the prerogative to delegate whoever he wants.
He said: “I came here as a Malawian to honour the martyrs. So, I am not bothered in any way.”
Instead, Chilima, who is president of UTM Party and was the first petitioner in the presidential election nullification petition, urged Malawians to be united and not allow political parties to divide the country.
In an apparent reaction to ugly scenes during the event that saw some sections of the audience booing Cabinet ministers as they made their way to deliver their speeches, the Vice-President said Malawians should conduct themselves in way that honours the martyrs who died fighting for the freedom the country is enyoying.
The official programme did not include the Vice-President among the speakers. It had Phiso as the key speaker representing the President and Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Symon Vuwa Kaunda representing legislators from Nkhata Bay. Kaunda is also Nkhata Bay Central member of Parliament and the event took place in his constituency.
The Vice-President was a model of humility in his conduct at the event on Tuesday. He was the first to arrive at the venue, spent time chatting with former president Joyce Banda and was in the welcome party for Phiso as the guest of honour.
However, Kaunda was visibly seen to be avoiding close interaction with Chilima and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) leaders Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence.
While Chilima, who self-drove to the venue and with no police siren vehicle, welcomed all the senior officials, although Kaunda avoided greeting him. The two did not shake hands. Kaunda was also later seen moving away from HRDC leaders after they had greeted him. He went to stand on the opposite side, but far from Chilima.
When Phiso completed delivering his speech, Chilima moved from his seat to shake the minister’s hand congratulating him on a speech whose content was unifying.
In his address, Phiso also said the country should promote unity and love one another by emulating the love the martyrs had for the country.
He said: “We are all Malawians. Let political parties not divide us. Let us create a Malawi that will benefit the next generation.”
But the minister was booed when he called on Malawians to avoid corruption.
In an interview after the official ceremony, acting Leader of Opposition in Parliament Lobin Lowe blamed government for the chaos that saw Cabinet ministers, especially Kaunda, booed.
He said disregard for protocol by delegating a Cabinet minister to be guest of honour at an event graced by the Vice-President contributed to the chaos. He said it is unfortunate to politicise national events.
Lowe, who is Lilongwe Central legislator (Malawi Congress Party-MCP), said: “You cannot assign a minister to be the guest of honour when the Vice-President is present. They [government] angered people. The Vice-President is senior and you cannot disrespect him like that.”
He also asked government to start managing the Martyrs Day commemoration which falls on March 3.
Martyrs Day is commemorated as a public holiday to honour the people who died while fighting for the country’s freedom on the day in 1959.
Scholars have celebrated the silent heroes, for instance, those of Nkhata Bay who in defiance of the terror of the police, attempted to release detainees held at the boma. In reaction, the colonial security forces opened fire and killed 20 rioters while 13 were wounded.
Nationwide, at least 51 Malawians protesters were killed—31 of them in Nkhata Bay—by colonial security forces. About 1 300 people were detained across the country during the State of Emergency which lasted until April 1 1960.