Tag Archives: demonstrations

Mphatso Banda's shows off the bullet wound he got at a protest in Lumbadzi, Malawi. Photo by Kara Stevenson.

Victims of Malawi’s bloody protest speak

July 21, 2011 was an unruly day in Lumbadzi, Malawi – a violent protest paraded through the streets. While some citizens were using the protest to loot shops and pelt stones at police officers, many innocent people were injured.

“I started to run, but I felt numbness in my left foot. I realized that there was a lot of blood and I was told that I was shot,” said 16-year-old Stanley Zacharia, who said he was shot in the foot by police following the demonstration against corrupt governance charges.

The violent protest left 20 people dead and over 200 people injured.

It has been over seven months since the occurrence and families of surviving victims have yet to receive answers, advice or assistance from any organization.

Mphatso Banda's shows off the bullet wound he got at a protest in Lumbadzi, Malawi. Photo by Kara Stevenson.

“I rushed to the scene and when I got there I saw my boy was lying in a pool of blood. He couldn’t walk or sit. The blood was oozing so much,” said Albert Zacharia, who described the day when he thought his son, Stanley, was going to die.

Zacharia wasn’t the only 16-year-old to be shot during the July demonstration. Mphatso Banda, who was on the verge to play for Malawi’s national under-17 soccer team, now lives with a bullet in his leg. He was also shot by a police officer. He said he wasn’t a threat to police, but rather he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I was coming back from the trading centre and that’s where I was shot. In fact, I didn’t even know I was shot until someone told me,” said Mphatso.

A lot of money was spent on hospital bills. While Zacharia is left with two broken toes and a wound that may cause infection, Mphatso was told by doctors at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe that resources for his recovery would be readily available at a hospital in South Africa. However, due to the lack of financial means, he cannot afford to pay for his full recovery.

There has been financial compensation to families who have lost loved ones, but those left with permanent injuries like Stanley and Mphatso have not received any compensation.

During a 2012 New Year’s speech, Malawi police chief Peter Mukhito admitted that the police force did not have adequate equipment to handle July’s demonstration. Rather than using rubber bullets, the police used real bullets.

Davie Chingwalu, the national spokesperson for the Malawi police said cases like Zacharia’s are still being investigated.

The Malawi Human Rights Commission is a government organization that investigates cases in which police may have caused unnecessary injuries. John Kapito, the chairperson of the MHRC said during their investigation, they did discover the injustice on both Stanley’s and Mphatso’s cases. He said their next step is to determine what action should follow.

The human rights activists who organized the July 21 demonstration, among others, have been paying tribute to families of people whose lives were lost during the violent protest. MacDonald Sembereka, the national coordinator of the Human Rights Consultative Committee, was one of the many who organized the demonstration and said there are legal actions that victims can initiate.

“We are looking at legal address for them. We know who shot them and they are liable to sue the government in this circumstance. We want them to take this to court,” said Sembereka.

Albert Zacharia, Stanley’s father, worries about the lack of action taken by these organizations that are forefront of the investigations.

“Who do I blame? Should I blame the government, the civil society, should I blame myself? Should I blame the boy? There are no answers to these questions. At the moment, I need assistance in figuring out what should be the next step,” he said.

Steven Malunga, chairperson of the Vendors Association for Tsoka Market

The street vendor’s motto: “Freedom is bought by blood”

Lilongwe street vendors have been headlining Malawi media for quite some time and it doesn’t look like their name will be out of the news anytime soon.

There have been a few battles between street vendors and riot police, creating chaos in the city. Since moving their business onto the streets of Lilongwe, street vendors have been confronted by city council officials and police, advising them to vacate the streets and return to their original selling spots in the markets.

This week, Lilongwe will have to prepare for another showdown.

It all started after the recent attacks on some Malawian women who were not wearing long skirts. Street vendors in Lilongwe said their name was tarnished from being accused of such acts.

“We love women and we protect our women. We would never hurt them,” said Steven Malunga, the chairperson of the Vendors Association for Tsoka Market.

“After the women boycotted us because they heard we were the ones attacking them, business has not been the same and now street vendors left their spots in the market to sell their merchandise on the streets.”

Malunga said he wants to put an end to what he considers defamation of character to all street vendors by using a seven-day campaign.

“The campaign is a method to disassociate the street vendors from thugs who are the real culprits of the attacks,” said Malunga.

He said thugs selling their merchandise on the same streets were posing as street vendors. Street vendors and thugs were being categorized under one title – vendors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Steven Malunga, chairperson of the Vendors Association for Tsoka Market (Photo by Kara Stevenson)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A joint operation with police authorities, the Vendors Association and city council members decided to use the seven-day campaign to get street vendors who are selling their merchandise on the streets, back into the market. This way authorities are able to differentiate who are the real street vendors and who are not.

“We are looking for the original vendors. Not the fake vendors. I want the original vendors to go back to the market to trade their business,” said Malunga.

Justin, a street vendor selling his merchandise on the street said he heard about the seven-day campaign and said he does not intend to move back into the market.

“Business on the street has increased sale profits. Also, there is no space to accommodate all vendors in the market,” said Justin.

Malunga said if street vendors are not situated back into their designated posts, anything could happen. He used this example: “If a child doesn’t listen, what happens to them? They get punished.”

Justin and many other street vendors challenge to face any officials after the seven-day campaign is over.

“We will deal with them when the time comes,” said Justin.

The seven-day campaign will officially end this Monday. According to a message (written in Chichewa) that was posted on several trees in Old Town, the street vendors stand strong; they will not be moved!

A DEAD PERSON IS NOT YET KNOWN!

A message from Lilongwe street vendors (Photo by Patrick Maulidi/ZBS Journalist)

WE, STREET VENDORS,
LABORERS, GOODS-CARRIERS AND
MINIBUS TOOTERS,
WE HAVE AGREED NEVER TO VACATE
NOR LEAVE OUR WORK BECAUSE
THAT’S WHERE WE FIND OUR DAILY FOOD

WE ARE WARNING ALL THOSE THAT
HAVE BEEN PAID TO BETRAY US
AND ARE BEING LED BY MR. STEVEN MALUNGA.
WE ARE SAYING MR. MALUNGA IS NOT OUR VENDORS CHAIRMAN
BUT FOR DPP PARTY.

WE DON’T WANT TO CONFRONT ANYONE
BUT IF YOU START CONFRONTING US, MAKE SURE YOU STAND FIRM AND FINISH WHAT YOU HAVE STARTED.
BECAUSE IF YOU RETREAT, WE WILL FOLLOW YOU TO YOUR RESPECTIVE HOMES.

WE WILL DIE FOR OUR COUNTRY LIKE GADAFI
WHO ONCE SAID
FREEDOM IS BOUGHT BY BLOOD

Malawian protesters wanted their say – and didn’t get it

A protester shows his solidarity by wearing red in downtown Blantyre, where peace reigned the streets in the morning. Photo by Travis Lupick.

Two weeks ago in Malawi, country-wide demonstrations deteriorated from peaceful celebrations to chaotic street battles. There were riots, the military opened fire, and people were killed –19 as of July 27.

That’s the story that has been broadcast around the world – and for many North Americans, it might be the first news to have ever reached their ears from the poor Sub-Saharan country.

But amid broken windows, gunshots, and thick plumes of teargas, important issues were lost.

Late in the afternoon of July 20, after a very long and hectic day covering the largest demonstrations to take place in Malawi since the fall of the long-ruling Hastings Kamuzu Banda, a group of reporters and I were asked, ‘What’s the story today? What can we say that the other newspapers will not?’

“We cannot go through this again,” one older journalist shouted. “We already saw people die for democracy once.”

“It has to be the violence, the police brutality,” another colleague offered.

And then a third suggestion gave the group reason to pause: “Today was supposed to be about civil society having its say,” the youngest reporter there said. “Now, all anybody will hear is the violence.”

The narrative that emerged from the discussion that followed goes something like this:

Malawi’s July 20 demonstrations were led by prominent civil society leaders who helped plan the protest more than two months in advance. In Blantyre, gatherings were highly-organized, with dozens of clearly-marked volunteers effectively keeping crowds within designated areas and separated from police and military personal.

For the majority of the day, the atmosphere was completely peaceful, with those citizens who showed up eagerly discussing exactly why they were in the streets, and what they wanted to see change to improve their country.

These demonstrations were called out of concern for an increasingly-autocratic leader’s mishandling of the economy and poor governance. In recent months, President Bingu wa Mutharika has seen laws passed that overly-regulate people’s freedom of assembly, give the government power to ban certain news publications, and restricted citizens’ powers to temper government action.

And while such draconian legislation repeatedly sailed through the DPP-majority parliament, Malawi’s economy crumbled. A lack of foreign currency has resulted in chronic fuel shortages that have sent commodity prices soaring. When fuel is available, queues that can last for hours quickly form around whichever filling stations are open for business. Power blackouts are a now a near-daily occurrence. And especially in rural areas, water is increasingly in short supply.

Those are the topics that thousands of Malawians across the country made clear they wanted to discuss. The people wished for a despondent government to hear their voices, feel their dissatisfaction, and act to improve the direction of the nation.

But the morning after July 20, the everyday challenges of life in Malawi were not what people were talking about. A last-minute injunction against civil society’s demonstrations left protestors waiting for word from the courts until their collective patience reached a breaking point. Masses of people who for hours had danced and sang for democracy were slowly infiltrated by a frustrated mob mentality. And when authorities saw an opportunity to deploy force in order to end the demonstrators’ day in the streets, they were quick to seize on it.

As everybody now knows, fires were set, windows were broken, and the police and military opened fire with live ammunition and stinging teargas. It was ensured that it would not be electricity and water shortages that people would continue talking about, but raucous youth and trigger-happy police.

In the newsroom, a conclusion emerged from the tired group of journalists:

President Bingu wa Mutharika never intended to listen to the thousands of people who danced in the streets on July 20, and with the police and military contributing to a situation that successfully shifted the conversation to the afternoon’s violence, the President placed himself in a position where he does not have to.

You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.