Saturday, July 30, 2011

Police, teargas & burnt tyres...

When I woke on a rather warmer Wednesday morning on July 20 after weeks of chilly weather, little did I know the adventure and chaos that happened later would ruin what should have otherwise been a good day.

July 20 was a day; nationwide demonstrations were announced so most shops and businesses were closed. Streets were mostly deserted and very few minibuses were travelling. I later learnt some drivers and conductors marched in the demonstrations.
Anyway curiosity got the better part of me as a journalist when I finally boarded a Blantyre bound minibus and disembarked near Mandala deciding to walk towards Highway road and the Clock Tower were protesters were expected to gather.
As soon as I walked towards the Clock Tower I noticed heavy police presence and police vehicles nearby.  Some five policemen stared at me as I headed in their direction but I remained unmoved and walked confidently feeling like a BBC journalist in a war zone or something. 
By the time I had passed the clock tower at 8am I noticed about 20 demonstrators dressed in red gathered at the filling station opposite where I was; loudly chanting their sorrows.
Suspected police vehicle with smashed windscreen
after  the looting 
The police seemed to have outnumbered the demonstrators at the time and their vehicles kept on circulating in the area while some organizers and lawyers where busy trying to vacate an injunction sought the previous night by Chiza Mbekeani I heard.
About an hour later, the protesters started moving from the filling station and headed towards Old Town Hall downtown where there was a larger crowd. By the time I got there I saw many enthusiastic but angry men and women in red clothing and scarves chanting and dancing and heavily armed police watching nearby.
The police allowed journalists to take their pictures and once in a while they were seen hanging around in premises behind.  One wore what looked like a teargas mask he never removed but they were friendly to all.
Luckily I met other journalists there and a friend who would later help me out during the drama that was to follow several hours later.  Back at the premises where the demonstrations were supposed to start, representatives of various media houses and politicians gathered waiting well past lunchtime for a vacation of the injunction. 
I could hear many complaining of hunger and thirst since all shops were closed and there was no sight of a food vendor in the streets. Even hunting for airtime units was a hassle; none could be seen nearby.

A protester before an injunction was lifted
There were some questionable characters including a shabbily dressed drunk man recording people with a Blackberry phone while another posed with cassava in his mouth probably mocking his hunger. 
By the time the injunction was vacated later in the afternoon a tired crowd of people who had spent long hours and hungry in the sun positioned themselves to march.
A slight disagreement erupted as some wanted to march through Blantyre city centre where many shops and various property were but the organizers bluntly told them to use the approved road from Old Town through CI then Kamba on route to the Civic Offices.
Black Maria leaves for central Blantyre
An intimidating police van popularly known as Black Maria was suddenly seen rushing off in the opposite direction towards the city centre as some unknown people were said to have began looting some shops.  This was evident when some police officers were seen carrying Bata shoes mostly one side of a pair and piling them in a heap at the Old Town hall.
The July 20 peaceful demonstration scheduled for Blantyre then began away from the city centre.  A huge crowd including older women headed in the opposite CI direction marching peacefully.
Police vehicle starts firing teargas behind the marchers  
Barely five minutes after the people had started marching a police vehicle approached from behind and officers fired teargas while the ‘Black Maria’ went in front and blocked the route teargas smoke everywhere as part of the crowd jumped into a nearby bush.
I heard many women ask what wrong they had done and why the police was showering them with teargas but alas, teargas continued filling the air. Others with water bottles started washing their faces while some men advised women to cover their mouths with a cloth and not breathe in the air.  It was terrible as I felt the teargas enter my nose like pepper, stinging pepper as I gasped for air.
Black smoke  filled the air
Before I could even breath more teargas was fired into the air and tears filled my eyes as my friend helped me run into the bush as the ‘Black Maria’ kept on travelling back and forth with officers suspected to be firing teargas.
The air was thick with teargas. Never in my life did I run so fast when I heard something like a shot fired into the air but alas the Sunny Side road was also blocked by police. 
All of a sudden I saw men make a huge silly mistake by removing cement pillar blocks from the entrance of some houses using them to block the roads while others grabbed dry grass, billboards and tyres which they lit to create a fire block making matters worse and the police more aggressive and suspicious I feel.
Black smoke filled the air as some men started pelting police vehicles with huge stones while running away from the teargas and blocking the road with huge stones and tyres.
It was like a scene from a movie  as we ran towards CI as the ‘Black Maria’ still travelled back and forth causing men to tell some frightened women not to run into other people’s premises as if they had done something wrong.
Black Maria in front of marchers 5 minutes after starting 
Running in front to avoid the teargas, I ran although I was hungry, tired and exhausted until I reached CI and saw the Catholic church while holding my rosary and to be honest scared and annoyed with my curiosity. 

Just when I was about to catch my breath I saw our company car and quickly ran to flag it down!  But my relief was short-lived as the route to where I was going was blocked by demonstrators and police watching from a distance. 
Running towards CI
I had no choice but to get out and cautiously walk in their direction to avoid them attacking me until they turned at Kamba leaving burnt tyres along the route reportedly heading towards Civic Centre. 

As I walked continued walking towards my destination I found all shops and groceries closed along the route and young men blocking the road near Zingwangwa market, burning tyres and once again I had to block my nose and struggle to breathe till I got to my destination! Thank God I made it through that day, July 20 without injuries but that was too risky and a learning experience.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 20: Nationwide demonstrations and Presidential lecture in Lilongwe...

The NGOs with Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) as the main coordinating committee are planning to hold nationwide demonstrations against various “political and economic problems” rocking the country including the fuel shortage and governance issues according to reports.

It's Monday and two days before planned nationwide demonstrations in Malawi and a Presidential lecture by President Bingu wa Mutharika at New State House in Lilongwe with some non-government organisations (NGOs) insisting they will go ahead with peaceful protests although State House has reportedly extended invitations to all.

Reverend MacDonald Sembereka, spokesperson for the Nationwide Mass Demonstrations who is also HRCC acting national co-ordinator is quoted as saying organizers of the protests do not want to be distracted and various stakeholders had requested the mass demonstrations.

An Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) letter monitored on MBC radio recently said the President will hold a public lecture from 9 in the morning of July 20 to let Malawians know the country’s achievements and future. 
It is also expected to take a debate format as people are also expected to ask various questions about human rights, good governance, Forex and the Zero-deficit budget among other things to ensure things in the country “continue to run smoothly”.
During a phone in Capital Radio programme some listeners felt contact and dialogue was a better method and encouraged NGOs to attend the presidential debate while others felt NGOs did before but it was "unsuccessful".
Earlier media reports sometime back quoted Information minister Vuwa Kaunda wondering what the demonstrations wanted to achieve as the best way in his opinion was to engage government in discussions and not on the streets.
Meanwhile a group calling itself concerned citizens plan to march against the NGOs demonstration on the same day and announced they have paid the required K2 million. 
Other concerned citizens and some NGOs have been posting various statements for the demonstrations on Facebook and Twitter while government has mostly been issuing statements through MBC radio and Television and reacting to NGOs in daily newspapers and private radio stations.  All sides are being covered in daily newspapers and private radio stations.
The civil society has since issued this statement on Facebook:

"The 20th July, 2011 National Peaceful Demonstrations - Malawi wears RED" posted on Facebook and the time set for 12:00 - 3:00 all across Malawi....

"Uthenga kwa a Malawi onse:

Inu nonse a Malawi mukudziwa kuti mu zaka zisanu zoy- amba za ulamuliro wa pulezidenti Bingu wa Mutharika anthu tinatangwanika ndikuona ngati tiona zeni zeni ngati dziko. Ife ngati anthu amene timatsatira mwan- dondomeko zakayendetsedwe ka boma la dimokilase komanso potsatira zimene inu a Malawi eni munasankha m’mene tinkasintha kuchoka ku ulamuliro wa chipani chimo...dzi mzaka za 1992 mpakana 1994.
Malawi tsopano wabwerera mbuyo ndipo wasanduka choseketsa cha anthu zifukwa za zinthu izi:

1. Kusowa ndalama za kunja zomwe timatha
kugulira zinthu monga mankhwala, mafuta ndi zina zofunika.
2. Kupereka bizinesi kwa anthu omwe ali pa ubale ndi pulezidenti ndi amtundu wake.
3. Kusamvera malangizo ngakhale ochokera kwa atsogoleri a mipingo ndi zipembedzo.
4. Kudzichemerera ndikusamvera kwake kwa mtsogoleri wadziko lino
5. Kufuna kusandutsa u pulezidenti ngati ufumu pofuna kusiira mng’ono wake mpando wa pulezidenti mopanda kutsatira ndondomeko zoyenera za dimokalase ndi ulamuliro wabwino.
6. Kuchitira nkhanza ndi kusawalemekeza a Malawi ena omwe agwira ntchito yokonza dziko la Malawi mbuyomu komanso ngakhale omwe iye wagwira nawo ntchito chifukwa chomulangiza.
7. Kuthamangitsa anthu othandiza dziko lino komanso otigula malonda athu ngati fodya.
8. Kuopyedza ufulu wachibadwidwe wa a Malawi poopsyeza atsogoleri a mabungwe omwe si a boma komanso manyuzipepala ndi mawailesi omwe si a boma.
9. Posintha malamulo mosaganizira zomwe a Malawi anawakhazikira
10. Kusowa kwa mafuta a galimoto ndi zina zotero kwa nthawi yayitali.
11. Kuletsa kugula mafuta m’zigubu ngakhale gali moto litakuthera mafutawo panjira kapena
kunyumba kwanu.
12. Kunyozera zigamulo za ma khoti komanso kuopyeza ogwira ntchito m’makhotimo ndikuwamana malipilo awo motsutsana ndi malamulo.
13. Kukondera popatsa maudindo a boma ndi mabungwe a boma komanso bizinesi kwa anthu a mtundu wake wokha.
14. Kuzunza atsogoleri akale ndi ena monga a pulezidenti opuma powakaniza kupita kuchipatala komanso a Cassim Chilumpha. Kuzunza wachiwiri wa pulezidenti wa dziko a Joyce Banda powachepetsera ndalama za mu ofesi yawo mu bajeti ya chaka chino
16. Kuzikundikira chuma pogula ndi kumanga nyumba 15 kunja ndi kuno komwe pogwiritsa ntchito ndalama zomwe zikanatukula dziko lino.
17. Kupatsa mkaza wake malipiro (salary) pogwira ntchito yothandiza yomwe ena amagwira wos alipidwa.
18. Kumangiridwa nyumba ndi zina ndi kontalakitala (contractor) yemwe akupatsidwa ma kontilakiti a boma mosatsatira ndondomeko.
19. Kusamutsa sukulu ya ukachenjede (University) yoti imangidwe ku Lilongwe kupititsa ku mudzi ndi munda wake ku Ndata ngati ndi yake
20. Kumpatsa galimoto zomwe ziyenera kuyenda ndi anthu ngati pulezidenti ndi wachiwiri wake
(convoy) kwa Peter Mutharika atalanda kwa Veep ndi a pulezidenti opuma pamene mchimwene wakeyo ali nduna wamba.
21. Kupereka chimanga mwaulere ku Zimbabwe mopanda chilolezo chochokera kunyumba ya malamulo.
22. Kunamiza a Malawi kuti iye ndiwa nzeru pamene akulephera kuyendetsa dziko.
23. Kutseka sukulu zaukachenjede pamene analumbira kuti muulamuliro wake sukulu zimenezi sizizatsekedwanso.
24. Kunyoza mavenda ndi anthu amalonda.
25. Kuononga ndalama za boma pomanga damu (doko) ku Nsanje popanda kuwafunsa a ku Mozambique omwe akukhudzidwa ndi mbali ina yantchitoyi.
26. Kuwabera anthu omwe akupereka zinthu m’boma ponama ndi nkhani ya funding.
27. Kukhometsa misonkho mosaona kuvutika kwa anthu.
28. Kuopseza atsogoleri a zipani zotsutsa ndi am abungwe amene si a boma
29. Kugwiritsa ndi kuphangira nyumba zoulutsila mau za MBC potukwana amalawi.

****English version*****

This is to inform all Malawians and various stakeholders that we members of the Civil Society and concerned citizens have organised peaceful demonstrations to take place on 20th July 2011 in all the four regions namely: Southern, Eastern, Central and Northern Regions and all Districts from Nsanje to Chitipa.

The peaceful demonstrations have been organized as part of our constitutional right to express alarm regarding the current economic and democratic crises facing Malawi, with the aim of calling for an end to the current poor economic and democratic governance being advanced by the current administration.

The Theme of the Demonstrations is: Uniting For Peaceful Resistance Against Bad Economic and Democratic Governance – “A Better Malawi Is Possible”
Outline of the Demonstrations is as Follows:-

Southern Region
Starting point: - Start from the Clock Tower in Blantyre thence to the Blantyre District Commissioner's Office to deliver a petition to the DC and ending at the gates of Sanjika Palace where another petition would be delivered for the attention of the State President.

We are calling all Malawians from Ndirande, Chilomoni, Chilobwe, Bangwe, Zingwangwa, Machinjiri, Mbayani, Chileka, Ludzu, all areas and locations to join the demonstration on 20th July.

Central Region
Starting Point: - From Community Centre Ground through Old Town then Kasungu Highway then to City Centre where speeches will be made.

We are calling all Malawians from Area 25, Kawale, Biwi, Mchesi, Chinsapo, Area 23, 33, 49, 39, Bunda, Likuni,Mugona ,all Areas and Locations to join the demonstration on 20th July.

Northern Region
Starting Point: - From Katoto Ground through Town to City Assembly Office where a Petition will be presented.

We are also calling on all Malawians from Zolo Zolo, Katawa, Chiwanja, Mzilawayingwe, Chasefu , all Areas and Locations to join the demonstration on 20th July.

District Demonstrations: - Malawians demonstrating in districts we appeal to you to convene at one place and March to the Office of the District Commisioner to present a Petition.

Colour: - We are appealing to all Malawians to put on anything RED on 20th July wherever they are for this peaceful demonstration.

If you cannot join and you are a Chief Executive, Managing Director, or any other Officer , or working in the Police, Army, and if you are a Civil Servant please release your house servant/gardener on this day of 20th July.

Note: This is a peaceful demonstration and we would appeal to all Malawians to be DISCIPLINED during these national wide demonstrations. Lets us show the authorities that much as they are oppressing and victimizing us we are peaceful and responsible Citizens.

This is your chance to make the difference by being heard and be counted on 20th July.

Lastly we sincerely thank the Business Community, Government Officials, Democratic Peoples Party Officials, the Police, Army, City, Local and District Assemblies for the support and understanding and we look forward to successful and peaceful demonstrations.





Took this picture of children in Milange, Mozambique admiring visiting Malawian children

Tracing footsteps to lead me home

Greetings from the Warm Heart Africa, Malawi.

I'm a Malawian journalist who grew up in many countries including South Africa, Belgium, then West Germany, UK, Washington DC and New York in the US and I love New York.

Trying to come up with the production of my life and by compiling some of my 1000 poems into a book called ‘Tracing Footsteps’ to lead me Home with excellent photography.

I also plan to film award winning documentaries based on the history of this ancient land called Malawi and the mysteries of the Sirius star. this space.