Heavy police presence yesterday forced People’s Land Organisation (PLO) members to postpone the much-awaited inauguration ceremony for the self-proclaimed United States of Mulanje and Thyolo (Must).
The ceremony, which was scheduled to take place at PLO’s headquarters at Khonjeni Turn-off in Thyolo, was expected to be the beginning of a government led by people fighting for their rights to land in the two districts.
Self-styled supreme leader Vincent Wandale was to be sworn in as president of Must, and he was also expected to preside over the swearing in ceremony of his deputy and Cabinet ministers.
Reports indicate that there was a suspicious increased police presence around the planned venue of the inauguration starting Wednesday.
When The Nation crew visited the venue yesterday morning, two vehicles belonging to the police, a white Toyota probox which carried Criminal Investigative Department (CID) police officers and a branded police Landcruiser full of uniformed and non-uniformed police officers were stationed at the venue.
In a telephone interview, Wandale while describing the situation as intimidation, expressed surprise over heavy police presence around the area.
He said after thorough consultation they agreed to postpone the event observing that the situation was not conducive for the ceremony.
“Since yesterday, the Malawi Police have been all over the place asking our members different questions regarding the ceremony. After agreeing that the condition was not conducive, we decided to stay back and watch what they intended to do. We expected that if they had any objections to our plans, they bring it forward to us. But as of now we haven’t received any,” he said.
However, Wandale who was in Blantyre at the time of the interview, remained defiant that the plan is still on and they will meet to agree on another date.
At the venue yesterday, The Nation witnessed some members who came for the ceremony being sent back by a few executive members of PLO that were there.
One of the executive members, Must state governor elect Fadson Mleme, told The Nation that despite the two vehicles, some police vehicles were seen going around the area carrying both uniformed and civilian-clothed officers.
“Different police vehicles have been going around this area, and in some cases Tatas belonging to the Malawi Defence Force (MDF). Police officers have been questioning us about the ceremony and we alerted our leaders.
“We feel intimidated and we do not understand why they are doing this because we are peace- loving people. Why must they force us to belong to their side?” said Mleme.
Another member, Robert Kambalame, concurred with Mleme.
“We know we are being followed and this is against our freedom of association” he indicated.
However, Southern Region Police spokesperson Ramsey Mushane, while brushing aside assertions that Thyolo and Mulanje could be a state of its own, said the PLO members could have been happy that they were safe when they saw the police.
“If what they were planning to do was legitimate, there was no way they could have cancelled the ceremony. This means they surely know that something was wrong somewhere. In fact, they should count themselves lucky to have been safely covered by police and made history out of it,” he said.
Wandale and four other members of his organisation are currently answering charges of obtaining money by false pretence.
They were arrested after about 54 villagers from Thyolo complained to authorities that they collected money amounting to K3.1 million from them promising to give them land.
The four pleaded not guilty to the charge, arguing the villagers paid the money as membership fees. They were released on bail in May this year.
The court in Thyolo has since asked the State to provide a lawyer to the PLO members through the Legal Aid Bureau, arguing that Wandale was misinterpreting the laws of the Malawi Republic.
According to Section 3 of the Malawi Constitution, the national territory of the Republic of Malawi shall consist of all the territory, including airspace, waters and islands which comprised the territory of Malawi before the commencement of the Constitution and shall include any territory lawfully acquired thereafter by adjustment of boundaries or otherwise. n