Malawi News Online (15) - 09/06/96

Malawi News Online (15) - 09/06/96

Edition No: 15 6 September 1996

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The fortnightly update of news from Malawi

MALAWI NEWS ONLINE is written by Malawian journalists in Malawi and from their point of view. It is assembled and edited in Denmark by South Africa Contact (the former anti-apartheid movement), publishers of i'Afrika, the quarterly magazine on Southern Africa.

The fortnightly news updates from Malawi are provided by our established network of journalists in Southern Africa. They will be followed, in the not too distant future, by individual news updates covering other Southern African countries.

MALAWI NEWS ONLINE is brought to you by a co-operation between South Africa Contact and Inform-bbs, the leading alternative information network in Denmark.

In this issue:

The honeymoon that Malawi's media has been enjoying with freedom of the press since the advent of political pluralism seems to be over.

The country's media landscape during the past two months has begun to change. The clear writing on the wall is that those ruling Malawi now will stop at nothing when it comes to suing a publication at the slightest hint of what they consider libel or defamation.

Ironically, this ship is being steered by no other than the man who has all along been touted by the local press as taking a leading role in defending and upholding freedom of the press in Malawi - President Bakili Muluzi.

In an unprecedented move which looks like the beginning of a breakdown in press freedom, Muluzi has slapped a weekly newspaper, the Tribute, with a libel suit for publishing an article alleging that he grabbed land worth K500,000 ($44,440) from a late friend. He has put in motion separate lawsuits - for the editor of the paper, its publisher and the printer of the newspaper . His lawyers, Legalwise, have not, however, indicated how much they are demanding from each of those served with lawsuits.

Muluzi has also won a court injunction restraining the printers of the tabloid, Uniprint, from printing any newspaper until the issue is finalised in court.

First Lady, Anne, has also obtained a court injunction barring another weekly tabloid, the Statesman, from carrying a column carrying her name (Anne) which used to ridicule her and the president. Perhaps the mother of all lawsuits is one from a wealthy Blantyre businessman and politician in the ruling party United Democratic Party, James Makhumula. The former minister has sued another weekly newspaper, the Chronicle, for K20 million (US 1.44 million dollars) , for publishing an article alleging that he grabbed land from a poor man in Zomba, 70 kilometres east of Blantyre. The case is being handled by lawyer and fellow deputy, Arthur Makhalira.

While some analysts say Muluzi's sudden about face is a gimmick, primarily targeted at punishing another fellow UDF central executive politician and member of parliament, Rolf Patel, who owns Uniprint, others say Malawian journalists should expect the terrain to become tougher, sooner than later. Patel is one of ten or more UDF deputies dubbed 'rebels' for not toeing the party line and for openly criticising Muluzi's policies.

Last year in September, Muluzi refused to turn into law a bill on publications that required all publications, including newspapers, to publish the name of the printer, publisher, editor and reporter. The fine for failing to fulfil this requirement was K20,000 ($1,440). In refusing to assent to the bill, Muluzi said that if turned into law it would be a big dampener to the newly-found and much avowed freedom of press the country was enjoying after 30 years of single-party dictatorship.

But, just about a year later, Muluzi says journalists must be responsible in their reporting. He said that they should not create lies or distort facts at the expense of other peoples' reputations. If they step on other people's toes they must face the law just like everybody else. "They are not above the law," he said.

Unfortunately, the publications bill resurfaced in parliament during its recent sitting and it was passed. It is now back on Muluzi's desk to either make it into law or overturn it for the second time. And it is unsure just what Muluzi will do now. " We have been asking ourselves what exactly is the use of the this bill? To whose benefit?" asks Frank Kamwendo, Chairman of the Lilongwe Press Club. Kamwendo wonders how the bill could advance press freedom when it requires those newspapers which do not abide by it to pay a large fine.

As if this was not enough to induce professional fear among journalists, the national radio, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, only two weeks ago fired a reporter and suspended an editor allegedly for filing a story about an opposition party meeting which, it was said, did not take place. MBC, long criticised for its biased coverage of events and reportage in favour of the ruling UDF, is strongly controlled by government.

Unfortunately, media groupings such as the Media Council of Malawi and the Journalists Association of Malawi have remained mute on the issue. Mollande Nkhata, chairman of the council, apparently trying to keep his head - he leads the news and current affairs section - says his council has not come up with a statement on the undemocratic decision by his employers because the council was still in its formative stage!!

Apart from the opposition and the print media, it is only the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA), Malawi chapter, that has come up with a bold statement condemning the action and its aim of inducing fear among the electronic journalists and other media workers.

The national radio has also received instructions, apparently from the Information and Broadcasting ministry, not to air anything in its news broadcasts about meetings addressed by a Blantyre member of parliament, Nicholas Kachingwe, who belongs to the same UDF 'rebel group'.

The court may not necessarily award Makhumula K1.4 million for defamation, but the strong message to Malawian journalists is that the days when they could lay their hands on any bits and pieces of information and send it further with impunity are gone.


A founding executive member of the UDF, and former cabinet minister, Rolf Patel, announced his resignation from the party on September 2.

Patel, proprietor of Uniprint, which has been sued by President Bakili Muluzi for printing a newspaper with a libellous article, has not yet joined another party. He is an MP in Thyolo, southern Malawi. He may remain an MP as long as he does not join another political party.

He fell out of favour with Muluzi and his cabinet, along with a group of ten other members of parliament, for openly criticising Muluzi on a number of issues. Patel, who was then minister of energy and mining, was changed to the less prestigious portfolio of relief and rehabilitation. In a reshuffle two months later, Muluzi dropped him completely from the cabinet.

Patel says there is rampant corruption in the Muluzi government with some cabinet ministers , who previously could not afford the busfare from town to their homes , now owning mansions and fleets of vehicles. "How could anyone accumulate such wealth within the two years they have been cabinet ministers?' queried Patel.

Patel is the second MP to resign from the party, Fred Nseula from Mwanza being the first.


Police have announced the arrest of opposition MCP Treasurer General John Tembo, his son, John Tembo Jr and former president Kamuzu Banda's confidante, Cecilia Kadzamira, for their alleged role in a conspiracy to murder, and for attempted murder.

Police announced on 2 September that the three, and a former police officer, Thunga, were arrested following the confessions of three other people already in police custody in connection with the robbery in January this year of a wholesale shop in Lilongwe. The three are former editor of The Malawian newspaper, Chimwemwe Mputahero, Adamson Chunga and William Phakamisa, arrested 31 August. They were using John Tembo Jr's vehicle.Tembo Jr told the police, his car had been borrowed by Chunga, one of his employees, because he wanted to go a funeral in Lilongwe. Police did not disclose details of the confessions.


For some time, the Malawi government has held the strong opinion that it would benefit if it forged special trade agreements with its neighbours.

Such a view culminated in Malawi signing one such trade agreement with Zimbabwe in October 1995. The agreement provides duty free access of imports and exports of finished products between the two countries. But now, barely ten months after Malawi signed the agreement, the business community is crying foul and would like to have the agreement cancelled.

The government has come under fire from the business community through its spokesman, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI), for rushing into the trade protocol without consulting the private sector. MCCI Executive Director says since signing the Malawi/Zimbabwe trade agreement, Malawi's exports to Zimbabwe have plummeted. Zimbabwe's exports to Malawi have, however, increased.

To make matters worse, Zimbabweans have taken advantage of Malawi's poor industrial base by fully utilising the trade agreement to penetrate the Malawian market with their cheaper goods, allowed duty free access under the agreement.

At a meeting by the chamber on August 29, the business community urged the government to waive duty on importation of a number of raw materials in order to reduce production costs by manufacturers which would then make the products more competitive, locally and internationally. The community feels that unless the government provides incentives to the industrial sector, Malawi will continue to suffer trade imbalance from Zimbabwe which is benefiting from the trade protocol because of its strong industrial base.

The private sector argues that because of the agreement, Zimbabwean products have become much cheaper than local ones. One businessman said it would even be profitable for Malawians to manufacture in Zimbabwe and export to Malawi. "Traders are even importing chickens and eggs at much cheaper prices than locally produced ones," lamented a poultry feed milling company. Zimbabwe, unlike Malawi, does not charge duty on importation of stock feed.

Controller of Customs and Excise, Ernest Mtingwi, rules out the possibility of removing duty on import of raw materials saying this would cripple government revenue collection. More than 50% of Malawi's budget is funded by revenue from customs and excise.


Vice President Justin Malewezi has threatened to fire principal secretaries and district commissioners who do not support the United Democratic Front (UDF) government. He was speaking last week, at the installation of Bibi Abiti Chapola as Chief in Salima, central Malawi, about 70 kilometres east of the capital Lilongwe.

He said the UDF had discovered that there were some district commissioners and principal secretaries in the government supporting the opposition parties, MCP and AFORD. He threatened that any civil servant who does not support the government will have their services terminated or be retired.


A diplomat's daughter was among three dead in a car crash, and an AK 47 assault rifle, two pistols and several fake vehicle number plates were retrieved from the vehicle giving rise to suspicion that the victims were car thieves. Ntcheu Chief Superintendent of Police, Patrick Phiri said the accident happened last week, in Ntcheu, central Malawi, about 200 kms from Blantyre.

Trancy Malemena, daughter of an administrator at the Zambian High Commission in Lilongwe, was the only female in the hired car, which was being driven by a Malawian, Joseph Sayani. The other passenger, Manete was a Zairean refugee based at Dzaleka camp in central Malawi. The vehicle, which overturned four times when the driver failed to negotiate a corner, had different number plates at the front and rear.

There is rampant car theft in Malawi, with most of vehicles stolen ending up in Zaire, where there is said to be a ready market.


Following a tip, police in Nkhota-kota, central Malawi, on August 23 intercepted a minibus carrying 15 and a half bags of Indian hemp (locally known as chamba), each weighing 90 kgs. All but one person in the minibus fled with police apprehending the one man who did not run.

President Muluzi set up a fund a few months ago to reward people tipping the police in chamba dealing. Nkhota-kota, along Lake Malawi, is reputed to be the biggest supplier of chamba in Malawi.

President Bakili Muluzi, who attended a SADC summit on August 24 in Lesotho at which several protocols were signed, including one on drug trafficking, afterwards warned that the law on chamba dealing would become tougher.


Malawi's Inspector General of Police, Patrick Chikapa, must be regretting convening a press conference on September 2 to clarify the arrest a day earlier of MCP treasurer general John Tembo, his son John Jr, and former official hostess for ex-president Hastings Banda, Cecilia Kadzamira.

Although the intention of the press conference was good, the mistake Chikapa will probably live to regret, and which surprised members of the press, was when they found that two of the people the police had announced two days earlier had been arrested in connection with the January Kalaria Wholesale broad daylight armed robbery, were also there, both seemingly composed and relaxed. These were Chimwemwe Mputahelo, a former editor of the defunct Malawian newspaper, an abhorred critic of State President Bakili Muluzi, and Adamson Chunga, John Tembo's former driver.

Chikapa's brief introductory remarks, detailing the press conference and the presence of the two accused persons, only set the tempo for scepticism and doubt among the pressmen and triggered a set of probing questions most of which seemingly proved too hot for the police to handle.

One journalist said he felt the press conference was a kangaroo court of some type aimed at condemning the Tembos, who were not there and able to defend themselves from being unfairly accused by Chunga and Mputahelo. Chikapa did not agree with the journalist's question, but it was clear he had been taken by surprise. He argued there was no need to produce the masterminds behind the conspiracy to murder and attempted murder charges. "When the investigations are over all the accused will be tried in a court of law," he argued.

Chikapa gave a vague excuse: "These people are still helping us with investigations," without telling the press whether the two would be tried for being hired as marksmen in the conspiracy. Again when the suggestion was made to him that the manner in which the events have unfolded since the initial announcement on 31 August could not be coincidence, the police boss was again at a loss to give a convincing explanation.

When another reporter wanted to know why the government always rushes to arrest MCP cadres while it hesitates or drags its feet when there is need to arrest UDF leaders involved in matters of contempt of court, financial scandals, corruption or evading customs, Chikapa pleaded that such issues should not be mixed with the purpose of the press conference.

When MBC aired the press conference, attended by Chief Information Officer, Grey Mang'anda, Principal Secretary for Information and Broadcasting Ziddy Medi and MBC Acting Director General Sam Gunde, later in the evening, all those issues on which the police and the two marksmen had failed to answer convincingly had been removed.


Cecilia Kadzamira, former official hostess for ex president Hastings Banda on September 3 expressed concern over her incarceration by the UDF government, but vowed never to leave the former head of state. She had been granted bail after a 24-hour stint in prison.

"Maybe the government wants me to join politics," said Kadzamira, when she addressed over 200 supporters at Banda's official residence at Mudi House. "What I see is that they want to arrest the Ngwazi. They are not content with what they did to us during the Mwanza case," she said. She vowed "never to leave the Ngwazi" in spite of the harassment by the UDF government. "We have always kept peace and calm and abided by the four corner-stones yet UDF thinks we are stupid. But they should not forget that a shy and stupid snake bites from the tail," she said.

Talking of her stint in prison, a seemingly tired but smiling Kadzamira said she was well received and treated by female inmates at Chichiri prison who, she said, also sent a message of solidarity to the opposition MCP. Cecilia Kadzamira was granted bail on September 3 less than 48 hours after her arrest on charges of conspiring to murder three UDF cabinet ministers.

Bail was granted by Judge Duncan Tambala who said people should not use detention to punish suspects before trial.


Riot police in Blantyre on September 3 used tear-gas to disperse more than 300 demonstrators carrying anti-MCP placards, marching from Blantyre city centre to the High Court about five kilometres away.

The marchers said they were going to the High Court to petition the Chief Justice and demand that Judge Mackson Mkandawire should not preside over the case involving John Tembo, his son, John Jr, Cecilia Kadzamira and a former police man, Thunga. One of their placards read 'MCP party of murderers' another, 'Tembo stop killing us.'

Mkandawire acquitted Banda, Tembo and three others in a case in which they were charged with conspiracy to murder and attempted murder. The UDF supporters fear that Mkandawire would free John Tembo and company ust as he had done in the previous case.


There is a ray of hope that dismissed Malawi Broadcasting Corporation reporter, Hastings Maloya, could be reinstated, while his colleague, Francis Chikunkhuzeni, might have his suspension lifted following revelations confirming that an opposition rally, whose story the reporter filed took place.

Maloya was dismissed allegedly for filing a story on an MCP rally held in the volatile Ndirande township, where a by-election is due on November 19. Officials at MBC said the meeting was never held and said Maloya was dismissed solely for that reason.

But unofficial reports say a team was set up to investigate the issue and establish whether the said meeting really took place or not and has since confirmed the opposition rally actually took place.

MCP strongman John Tembo and his son by the same names, John charged with conspiracy to murder and attempted murder were given bail on September 4. The two were arrested on Septemebr 1 following confessions by three accused persons in a shooting incident that took place in Lilongwe in January 1996 incriminating them. The Tembos must report to police once every two months. The bail carries a bond of K20,000, non-cash and another surety of K20,000.

2 GOVERNMENT TO PROBE LUNGUZI'S DEATH President Bakili Muluzi announced at a rally in Lilongwe on September 2 his government would probe the death of former inspector general of police McWilliam Lunguzi who died in a car accident in June this year.He said it was difficult to believe how out of four passengers only one person sitting at the back of the car could die. Lunguzi died when the vehicle he was travelling in together with MCP Vice President Gwanda Chakuamba hit a stationary tractor trailer in Dowa, central Malawi.

But police inspector general Patrick Chikapa contradicted Muluzi at a press conference on Monday when he said as far as the police investigations were concerned, Lunguzi died in car accident, and the issue was closed.

Meanwhile the Lunguzi family on September 5 said they were gravely concerned with Muluzi's announcement that the government would institute a probe into the death of their father.In a press release, Lunguzi's eledest daughter, Lucy Mauluka said it was sad that the UDF were now posing as if they sympathised with the the family when neither the party nor the government sent a message of condolence to the deceased's family. She said in addition, she had evidence that some central executive members of the UDF were even celebrating over their father's death. "Which was why he was not buried with full police honours as should have been the case," said Mauluka.She said it was therefore hypocritical for the UDF government to pose as if they cared about his death.


From: (Africa_news Network) Subject: Malawi News Online Date: 17 Sep 1996 10:40:15 GMT Me

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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