Earlier tipped to be a referendum on abortion and homosexuality in their own right, Tuesday’s Citizen March for Life and Family demonstrations lived to their expectations as thousands turn up to ‘celebrate life.’
The nationwide anti-abortion rallies were organized by the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) of the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM) who are a mother body of 122 church denominations and Christian organizations in the country.
And if the turn up alone was to be taken into account, at least as regards the abortion debate in the country, then it would have been easy to declare “the ayes have it and the motion is passed” in Parliamentary terms.
But in Lilongwe, where the main show was slated as the marchers targeted Parliament for its petition, the demos seemingly shook all corners of the town as it attracted people from all walks of life. And apart from the Christians, Muslims were equally presented; so too the Rastafarians.
Never before had a public demonstration attracted such mammoth crowds, probably since the July 20, 2011 ones; only that yesterday’s demos were the best coordinated in recent times.
Secretary General of Nkhoma CCAP Synod Reverend Vasco Kachipapa, EAM deputy secretary general Reverend Grey Mwalamu, Pastor Matilda Matabwa of the Malawi Assemblies of God, and Bishop Brighton Malasa who has just been appointed Bishop of the Upper Shire of the Anglican Church were some of the top clergy in attendance.
Having started at St Patricks’ Catholic Church Parish in Area 18, the marchers swarmed the Presidential Highway from Area 18 roundabout all the way to the Parliament Building. Clad largely in white, they formed a milk way of some kind, and the enthusiasm in their chanting and dancing spoke of a spirited people; convinced they were fighting for a good course.
Led by top members of the clergy present, the hymn Stand up, Stand up for Jesus was repeatedly sung with such vigour rarely heard in the cathedrals.
Once outside the Parliament Building, ECM Secretary General Reverend Father Henry Saindi set the tone in his address to the gathered marchers by responding to assertions that Malawi was a secular country.
He explained: “Malawi is not a secular country. The fact that we have in our midst some secular individuals doesn’t necessarily mean the whole country is. In actual fact, it just underlines the fact that faith values are deeply imbedded in our society. We are very accommodative; very tolerant.
His sentiments were preceded by some Anasheed, said to be moral, religious songs sung in various melodies in Islam, from the Moslem community present.
Saindi added, “If we are advocating for abortion in the name of promoting sexual reproductive health, why then should the same state incriminate its people over murder, physical assault on fellow human being etcetera? We therefore call upon all Malawians of goodwill to stand up for life by saying NO to the culture of death as manifested in the proposed Bill. Human life must be respected, preserved, and defended from the moment of conception.”
All the while, such strong words were covered in his calm but clever tone, and the people clearly loved it. They kept cheering on his utterances.
And his descending from the stage coincided with the oncoming of various Members of Parliament to meet the marchers, and the cheers grew louder. Leader of Opposition Lazarus Chakwera led the group who included Peoples Party’s Uladi Mussa, DPP’s deputy Secretary General Cecelia Chazama and the UDF Chief Whip in Parliament Lillian Patel, among others.
But it was Juliana Lunguzi who received the petition on behalf of Parliament, and befittingly so.
She said, “As chairperson of your Health Committee in Parliament, a Catholic Christian, as fellow Malawian myself, as a midwife, as a Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) expert myself, and most importantly as a woman, I couldn’t be in a more challenging position because of the emotive nature of the topic of the right to life which is one of the main purposes of this march.
“But we would be failing in our duty if we closed our ears and turned our backs to such voices and challenging situations. We would like to believe that we are equal to the challenge, I know I am. I believe that we are a nation capable of doing great things coming up with practical solutions to our most pressing problems, only if every citizen plays his or her rightful part.”
Though Lunguzi acknowledged having witnessed what she called a testimony of a responsible and exemplary exercise of a democratic approach and freedom of expression, Saindi was quick to remind the Parliamentarians of the faith groups’ expectations on them. And it came with a serious warning.
Saindi hinted that the faith leaders would organize what he called another massive demos against inconsistencies in various social amenities in the country should the church note no changes.
“Be reminded that it’s the church that brought democracy in this country. Never play games with faith issues. We will be back soon; bigger and stronger.” He said.
Meanwhile, government has categorically disputed reports that there is an Abortion Bill ready for debate in the National Assembly.
“The truth of the matter of the matter is that the Law Commission has developed a Report and new recommendations to government to adopt a new law on abortion. Therefore any information that there is a ready Bill on the same is misleading.” Reads part of the statement the Ministry of Information and Communication.
Currently, the law on abortion is governed by the Penal Code. Sections 149, 150, 151 and 243 of the Penal Code prohibit termination of pregnancy except where the life of the matter is threatened.