Post-election violence continues to surge days after Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) organised demonstrations calling for the resignation of Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson as the protests spread to some trading centres in rural Lilongwe at the weekend.
Police units at Nsundwe and Mpingu Trading centres along the Lilongwe-Mchinji Road were torched on Friday while a road at Namitete was barricaded yesterday, leading the police to fire tear gas to disperse people.
During the Thursday protests, some people in Mzuzu, Lilongwe and Blantyre took the law into their own hands, stoning buildings and cars, and burning billboards and flags.
From Mzuzu to Lilongwe and then Blantyre, the misguided protesters went berserk, looting shops, breaking shop windows, burning tyres and flags of President Peter Mutharika as well as manhandling some police officers.
The police have since arrested eight people for damaging property.
Property worth millions of kwacha was lost and police have said they are still assessing the damages to ascertain how much was lost, but have already arrested a few people in Mzuzu.
But HRDC and political parties that participated in the protests have distanced themselves from the acts and resultant losses, calling on law enforcers, Malawi Police Service (MPS), to act on deviants so that the law takes its course.
In the North, the affected buildings and properties include that of Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), Department of Works, Malawi Prison Services, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) offices, banks and shops.
The MRA offices and Bata Shop were attacked after organisers had delivered their petition. They broke into the shop, stealing everything on the shelves.
At MRA, they threw stones at the office and cars; at Prison offices, they took down a sign post, while others rushed to DPP offices, where they broke into the premises, stoning the office and broke window panes.
DPP governor (North), Kenneth Sanga, said three bicycles went missing after the incident.
“We have asked for quotations from some shops that sell glass and we are waiting for that to have a real figure of the cost of the damage,” he said.
Near the Northern Region Police office, the protesters took down Mutharika’s billboard, and set it ablaze at Court House Roundabout, where they also burnt palm trees which added beauty to the place.
Mzuzu City Council (MCC) spokesperson McDonald Gondwe said they estimate the cost of damage to their buildings at K2 million.
“Apart from that, we are worried that some investors could be afraid of this criminal conduct and may not be able to come here.
“We want to get city rates from these business people, but if their business are closed or looted by of some criminals, it means as a council we are also losing out,” he said.
MRA director of corporate affairs Steve Kapoloma said they were still assessing the damage.
Mzuzu Police deputy publicist Paul Tembo said many people were still registering their losses, and it would take time to come up with a definite figure of the damages.
However, he said police have arrested some people in Mzuzu in relation to the Thursday fracas.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera condemned the criminal behaviour, saying perpetrators will face the law.
“The Mchinji Road was also blocked and Mpingu as well as Nsundwe police units were set on fire. To quell the situation—to stop looting and clear the roads—police used teargas,” he said.
Organisers, parties condemn violence
HRDC, in a statement, said it noted with grave concern sporadic acts of violence and vandalism that occurred, especially after the demonstrations in some cities.
It has described the incidents, including the beating of a police officer in Lilongwe and the stoning of police vehicles in some parts of the country as shocking and deplorable but are also contrary to the spirit of peaceful protests.
Signed by chairperson Timothy Mtambo, his deputy Gift Trapence and regional chairpersons, HRDC disowned the violence and the looting, urging the police to ensure that those involved are arrested and speedily brought to justice.
“It is also alleged that in other places some protesters were throwing stones at police vehicles. Citizens are urged to respect and cooperate with police officers when doing their job rather than attacking them.
“As HRDC, we are saddened by these reports and say without fear of contradiction that those who participated in these heinous acts should be hunted down until they are caught and brought to book,” reads the statement in part.
While condemning these actions, the HRDC said it noted with serious concern that the Malawi Police Service (MPS) failed to provide adequate police officers to protect people and property.
“The decision of the police to provide few law enforcement agents is in clear violation of the Police Act, which requires police to provide adequate protection to the citizens during demonstrations.
“In fact, this decision raises a lot of questions. Was this perhaps a deliberate move by police authorities so that if anything wrong happens later HRDC should be blamed? The HRDC, however, commends the few police officers who were present for exercising restraint in the face of such unruly behaviour,” it added.
UTM leader Saulos Chilima, who was part of the protesters, also condemned the violence, urging parties’ members and the citizenry at large to avoid taking advantage of protests to engage in criminal activities.
“I hereby wish to condemn that behaviour in the strongest terms and urge the law enforcers to do their job. I wish to emphasise that violence has never nor shall it ever solve matters of national concern,” he said in a statement.
On his part, Lazarus Chakwera who leads Malawi Congress Party, also said he was aware that on Thursday there were some incidents of vandalism and rioting, including attacks on some chiefs and their homes.
“I condemn all such destructive acts and intentions in the strongest terms, and I support any investigations by law enforcement agencies to bring them to justice,” he said.
National police publicist James Kadadzera also said in a statement on Thursday that perpetrators of these incidences will face justice.
Thursday protests were aimed at forcing Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Justice Jane Ansah and other commissioners to resign and pave the way for investigations into, among others, identifying and prosecuting those who supplied Tippex to be used for ‘doctoring’ election figures.