Two People’s Party (PP) senior officials have spoken of their shock and anger at the violence that took place at Goliati in Thyolo where stones were thrown at President Joyce Banda and two people were killed.
Opposition DPP president and the party’s presidential candidate for the May 20 polls, Peter Mutharika, comes from the area.
Director of sensitisation and recruitment Peter Chupa claimed this week this is the first time for a sitting president to be stoned in the history of multiparty politics in Malawi.
Chupa said: “How does a president get stoned? This has never happened and I am failing to come to terms with what happened at Goliati. If it were in Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration, more people would have lost lives.
“During Bingu’s time, police would have shot dead many people because if you stone a presidential convoy, how would police know what one is throwing is a stone or bomb? We commend police for showing restraint; otherwise, something nasty was going to happen.”
PP regional governor for the South Isaac Nyakamera said due to the seriousness of the issue, he asked the police during the fracas why they allowed the stoning in the presence of the President.
Nyakamera said: “We saw the fracas. It was first time to see the President being stoned. Police were there and were told what was happening. Why should DPP create Thyolo a no go zone for other political parties? This is unacceptable.”
The PP senior officials said there is something wrong with DPP and Thyolo, saying former president Bakili Muluzi was in 2009 disturbed when he was holding a campaign rally for John Tembo’s presidential candidacy and UDF’s Atupele Muluzi was in 2012 attacked by the same DPP at Bvumbwe.
The senior officials denied allegations that any of their members started the fracas that left many injured by uprooting DPP flags way before the President arrived as claimed by some police officers.
DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi also distanced his party from the fracas, arguing some members of DPP wanted to have a football match at the venue the President addressed the rally, but had to move to another ground to give the President a space.
He dismissed as incorrect suggestions that DPP was trying to make Thyolo or the Lhomwe Belt a no-go zone for other political parties, arguing President Banda and other leaders including opposition MCP presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera have been to the Lhomwe Belt before in recent times.
Dausi, who was attacked together with Peter Mutharika’s personal assistant Ben Phiri in a seemingly revenge act by PP youths Monday night at Sunbird Mount Soche, challenged the police to investigate the matter.
Phiri was severely beaten up and was admitted to hospital. PP deputy publicity secretary Ken Msonda distanced his party from Phiri’s assault. No arrests, in this case too, have been made.
Asked about preparedness to control the stone-throwing irate crowd in an interview on Wednesday, national police spokesperson Rhoda Manjolo said officers were well equipped and prepared to handle the volatile situation.
Manjolo said as professional officers, there are techniques police use to contain a volatile situation and they applied the same during the Goliati fracas, adding it was sad two lives were lost.
Asked how serious police were with investigations considering that four days later, no arrests were made, Manjolo said investigators were on the grounds and would come up with results soon.
Manjolo said: “We don’t just arrest people for the sake of it. We have to do our investigations thoroughly. We must arrest people directly connected to the incident, but that can only happen after thorough investigations, lest we will be accused of police brutality.”
Three police officers Weekend Nation interviewed also said police were well equipped and prepared for the presidential rally, saying they did their best to contain the situation and that the two deaths occurred after the President had left.
One police officer said: “The stoning directed to the podium where the President was sitting started when the Minister of Health [Catheline Gotani Hara] was speaking; in fact, it was her speech that sparked protests.
“It was a tricky situation, we could not have used teargas in presence of the President; otherwise, we could have caused a pandemonium and the rally could not have proceeded. We controlled the crowd using other means, in some instances advancing towards the crowd as the President was speaking.”
Another police officer said presidential bodyguards, who are normally seated, were standing behind the President throughout her speech and were on high alert.
The officer said the situation was so bad that after the speech, the President changed cars and the trucks that carried flour for distribution returned without offloading.
The police officer said authorities might have sensed trouble at Goliati because Malawi Defence Force (MDF) deployed soldiers who came in one Tata truck and were among police officers that helped in controlling the irate crowd believed to be DPP supporters.
The police officer, explaining what led to the death of their colleague, Cassim Julius, and a civilian Aaron Sawerengera, said a team of police officers remained behind after the President had left to guard government workers that were removing the podium.
The police officer said: “It took them about two hours to remove the podium and throughout this period, we were fighting with the rioters. A team of five police officers were assigned to a certain section behind the tent to prevent the rioters from coming closer.
“After we had finished, and everything loaded in vehicles, we forgot this team of five and sped off, leaving them behind. It was at this time that the rioters knew the vehicles had left, but there were some officers left on the ground.
“The angry mob descended on them and the police officers took different directions to save their lives. It was at this time that Cassim was cornered, hacked and stoned to death. We only got calls later from other colleagues that they were hiding in maize fields and they needed to be rescued.”
The police officer said they rushed back to Goliati and they managed to rescue the four. But upon arrival at the ground where the rally took place, around 7 pm then, we were told by a 12-year-old boy that our colleague was lying dead somewhere.”
He said the boy led police officers to where their colleague was and they found him lying dead in pool of blood.
Aged 36, Sawerengera was a family man, with three children, a son and two daughters, according to his cousin Edward Sawerengera.
Until his death, Sawerengera was working for Banja La Mtsogolo (BLM), and was stationed at Chitsoka Health Clinic, two kilometres away from Goliati Trading Centre.
In 2000, Edward said, his cousin joined Illovo Sugar (Malawi) Limited as a clerk before getting another employment at the then joined Southern Bottlers Limited (Sobo) as stores clerk. He joined BLM in 2012.
Sawerengera, who lost both his parents, was a dedicated CCAP member, and according to Edward, this was demonstrated during his cousin’s burial on Tuesday where his church conducted a full funeral service.
Sawerengera, who came from Matope Village, T/A Nkalo in Chiradzulu, was an affable man, passionate about Malawi politics and he loved watching football in his free time, according to Edward.
Edward said the deceased was not a type of man who would be involved in political violence, explaining that he was only caught in a crossfire as he was running away from a scene where police were firing tear gas.
Edward said his cousin, who has left a twin sister, was a responsible man who dedicated his time looking after his family.
Julius Cassim, aged 39, was a man full of life, according to those that knew him. He was heavily built and commanded respect among his colleagues, according to a police officer who worked closely with him.
He has left behind a wife and three children.
Julius, the colleague said, joined Malawi Police Service (MPS) in 1995. He served at C. Company, moved to State House when Bakili Muluzi was president, then Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) before he was finally moved to B. Company in Blantyre, Kanjedza, where he served until his death on that fateful Sunday.
As a superintendent, a senior position in MPS, Julius was third in command at B. Company, but he remained humble and approachable and treated everyone, young or old, equally, his colleague said.
Despite being a man in uniform, Julius was devoted Muslim and a Sheik who was congregating with fellow Muslims at Kanjedza Mosque.
During his free time, Julius, who died a brutal death that came through stoning and hacking, loved watching football and was a Big Bullets fan, according to the colleague.
He was also a team manager of White Eagles, a police team he assisted with finances from his pocket.
At the time of his death, according to the colleague, he owned a three-tonner lorry and a Peugeot saloon and had a good share of international travels during his time at the State House and KIA.