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Cop-out? Did CCJP Not Abandon Cause for the Voiceless?

CIVIL society organisations (CSOs) asked workers to stay away from work for three days. Three whole days.

If you ask yours truly, one day would have more than enough. But if you’re looking for criticism against CSOs responsible for calling attention to Malawi’s economic and governance problems, this correspondent will disappoint you. There’s one or two reasons for that.

There was lots of hollering from those who either pretended they knew what the July 20 protests were about or from people who honestly didn’t have a clue as to why people, led by CSOs, took to the streets in the first place; then set up the August 17 vigil as a follow up to remind the government that the people were watching.

But the government dodged a bullet August 17, thanks to the intervention of the United Nations which helped secure a four-week extension.

The government had complained that four weeks from July 20 was too short to do anything. But the government, blamed for the deaths of 19 people during the protests, had no intention of letting the vigils take place at the expiry of those four weeks on September 21.

As CSOs discussed with the government problems prevalent in the country, there were three fire-bombing incidents: two against properties of activists associated with the protests and one against an opposition party member.

In two, the government suggested the victims knew something about the fires. Furious, activist Rafiq Hajat whose offices were set on fire threatened to sue over the innuendo.

As September 21 drew closer, some organisers of the July 20 protests opted out of the vigils. They include Hajat’s Institute for Policy Interaction, Billy Banda’s Malawi Watch and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP). One clergyman (for the record not a Catholic) was quoted by the media as saying after the deadly protests his church wasn’t ready for more bloodshed.

So without the support of those mentioned and with the government encouraging people to ignore the CSOs clarion call, organisers Billy Mayaya, Martha Kwataine, Dorothy Ngoma and lastly Peter Chinoko, of the CCJP but in his personal capacity, stayed the course and pulled it off, prompting President Bingu Mutharika to call it an “illegal national strike” on Thursday.

Among those who didn’t participate, I have a bone to pick with the CCJP because of what the Catholic Church has meant to Malawians all along.

The mission of the CCJP is to “contribute towards the creation of a God-fearing, just, loving and peaceful Malawi Society” which reflects beliefs of the Catholic Church.

And true to its values, the Catholic Church helped bring to an end Kamuzu Banda’s autocratic rule (1964-1994) and has over the years remained the voice to the voiceless.

Not even Pres Mutharika, himself a Catholic, has been spared the rod. Granted, there’s more than meets the eye in CCJPs decision to pull out of the larger CSO just days before the vigil.

What was CCJP doing during the July 20 protests? Why join it if you can’t stick to it come rain or shine? Why abandon the cause when people are hurting? That’s a huge cop-out.

But one CCJP member, Chinoko, deserves special recognition for remaining true to “our cause” as he put it on the eve of the vigil. Chinoko isn’t one who does this for fame or riches if that’s all you think of activists.

He is a full-blooded activist. Like law professor and public intellectual Edge Kanyongolo – jailed by the Banda regime- Chinoko understands what it means not to be free.

As a student, he bore the brunt of Banda’s intolerance and left the University of Malawi prematurely. When people like Chinoko are willing to fight for a “just” Malawi as spelt out in the CCJP credo, what’s there to disparage?

And did Chinoko, Mayaya, Kwataine and Ngoma say they expected fuel pumps to start flowing non-stop right after the vigils?

Causes aren’t won in just a day or a few weeks. If that was always the case Malawi, which fought for self determination as early as 1915 but became independent in 1964, could’ve waited even longer because after failing in 1915 the people could have just given up.

Let’s get it straight: Activists are wired to agitate but a good many of them also have the patience of a fisherman.

Activists know government officials say certain things to placate people but statements of intent are just that—statements. For example, the government has now said it’s willing to take a look at the controversial law which empowers a minister to outlaw a publication s/he considers not to be in the public interest.

As an activist, your job is to make sure that promises are kept and you keep pounding the pavement to look for support to make sure what was promised gets delivered. CCJP and those taking cheap shots at CSOs, is that too hard to appreciate?. The author is a media practitioner. - This opinion piece was written by Patrcik Mwanza of maravipost

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