President Peter Mutharika has described the deaths of 21 Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers in a road accident at Mapanjila in Mzimba District on Thursday as a national disaster.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Malawi Armed Forces was speaking at Kamuzu Barracks in Lilongwe on Friday at a sombre ceremony that paid respect to the departed soldiers before their bodies were taken for burial in their respective home districts.
At the barracks, 15 coffins—draped in the Malawi flag—were lined up for the ceremony, which included speeches by the President, acting MDF Commander Lieutenant General Clement Namangale and a sermon.
A similar ceremony was coordinated by the MDF in Mzuzu on Friday.
Both the national and the MDF flags flew at half-mast and the Last Post was sounded, in saluting the dead.
“Let us hold hands during this disaster,” implored a moved Mutharika, who advised motorists in the country against speeding on the roads of Malawi and ensure that their vehicles are in good condition, to avoid more accidents.
Turning to the bereaved families, some of whose members were mourning uncontrollably in the background, the President said: “I want you to know that the nation is mourning with you and our thoughts will always be with you.”
Giving a background to the deaths, Namangale said the accident was most shocking, for no other road accident had claimed as many lives in the Army’s history.
“The MDF has lost well-trained recruits and some of their highly-experienced instructors as they had completed final military exercises and manoeuvres, which could have culminated into a pass-out parade and commissioning of the dead later in the month,” he said.
Namangale praised Mutharika for supporting the MDF during its time of need, including ordering the Department of Disaster Management Affairs in assisting the bereaved families and giving the dead soldiers decent burials.
He announced that the MDF had instituted a three-day mourning period—to next Monday. Namangale also thanked the Commander-in-Chief for declaring the accident a national disaster, explaining that the dead came from across the country, reflecting the MDF’s national approach during recruitment.
It was announced that Mutharika, Vice-President Saulos Chilima and other well-wishers had contributed to a condolence fund of K10.5 million that will ensure that each bereaved family receives K50 000.