Today, as we celebrate the lives of these 20 heroes, we, as a nation, also ought to reflect on our crisis management capabilities and lack thereof. It is incredibly regrettable that on July 20, 2011 and many other occasions, we have lost innocent lives when we should have avoided it through human and political tolerance based on the prevailing democratic constitutional order.
Out of the 20 victims, two were shot dead in Blantyre and Lilongwe had seven deaths. Mzuzu had the highest number-10-and Karonga registered one death. Close to 60 people were severely injured, most of them due to gunshots or police beating. Property worth millions of Kwacha was vandalized in the ensuing confrontation between the police and protesters.
The nationwide demonstrations were organized by major Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Malawi. They were aimed at calling for an end to President Mutharika and the then DPP government’s rising repressive and authoritarian policies.
It was this deteriorating governance situation that also led to Malawi’s bad relations with her traditional donor nations and organizations, including the IMF, World Bank and Britain, culminating in the withdrawal of budgetary aid. Food became scarce. Fuel and forex were in short supply, unprecedentedly.
But as a starting point, it is even more imperative that the perpetrators of violence and deaths of innocent people must be prepared to accept responsibility for their violent conduct.
The DPP, which returned to the corridors of power after the May 20, 2014 tripartite elections, must take a bold decision to genuinely take responsibility for the political, social and economic atrocities that led to the July 20 protests and the resultant loss of lives and property. The nation desperately needs healing and the continued display of arrogance and the business-as-usual attitude by the DPP and its leaders does not help matters at all.
They say “time heals”. But it is unlikely that Malawians, more particularly the victims’ families, will ever forget and forgive the current leaders in the absence of genuine ‘repentance’. The DPP must undertake to bring all the July 20 ‘culprits’ to justice if genuine ‘reconciliation’ is to occur.
It is regrettable to hear reports that President Peter Mutharika has been sidelined from attending this year’s memorial service. Surely, Malawianswould have loved to see our President being part of the memorial services. But that would only make greater sense when the President, who was cabinet minister in 2011, comes out clearly about how much ‘remorseful’ he is.
Most Malawians, especially the affected families, are inclined to think that the DPP government is only playing ‘politics’ when its leaders merely say “sorry”, in the absence of a real healing process, including providing compensation to the bereaved families.
Today, five years after the tragedy, the families of the victims feel empty without their loved ones whose only sin was to stand up for their rights; yes rise up against a repressive regime.