The Nation (Malawi), June 30, 2003
by Gedion Munthali
The rampaging Muslims, in robes and skullcaps after prayers ransacked offices of the Muslim Association of Malawi in Blantyre, damaged office property and set ablaze files and a motorbike parked outside the premises.
Those in Mangochi also coming from prayers caused extensive damage to five Christian churches, UDF district office, Save the Children Fund (USA) and burnt a vehicle belonging to a catholic priest who escaped with injuries.
The ruling party office was the first to be destroyed when it was pelted with stones, leaving it with broken doors and windows.
Mangochi Diocese Bishop Alessandro Assolari must be counting himself fortunate after armed police rushed to his compound when word reached them the rowdy Muslims were on the loose and were marching towards the bishop’s house.
The bishop will, however, wish the police were also timely for other people harmed in the violence.
The fracas at the Save the Children’s Fund offices began with overpowering of guards at the gates around 3PM. Minutes later the building lost all its windowpanes.
Members of staff trapped inside hid under desks or locked themselves in rooms without windows. One of them returning from a bank was thoroughly beaten up, her salary and cell phone confiscated.
All the vehicles parked outside were considerably damaged. One of them belongs to visiting Fresh Water Project officials. Shards of broken glass were still littered all over the place when The Nation visited the site Saturday morning.
“We do not have religious or political affiliation. I wonder why these people can not understand this,” complained a Fund’s official, Storm Malcomac, an American, who was away when the incident took place.
“We have temporarily suspended work and our future in Mangochi will be known in two to three days time,” said Malcomac, accompanied by two others, who came to pick some items they had forgotten during their flight. Police are now guarding the place.
CCAP Reverend Cedric Kamoto, who fled for his life as his church and manse took an hour’s pounding from stones and metal bars which broke all window panes and some doors, said on Saturday the riotous Muslims went away with a number of his household effects including a TV set and three cameras.
“They came chanting Islamic slogans. They said we should get out of Mangochi because it’s not meant for Christians. They accused us of bringing Americans in Malawi to disturb their interests,” said Kamoto, vowing never to leave nor change the church schedule.
“We have reported the matter to police and the General Secretary of the [Blantyre] Synod [Daniel Gunya] is on his way to assess the situation,” said Kamoto, flanked by Pastor Pilirani Simoko of Gospel Outreach Church who claimed he slept away from his house. “But we believe in God and he will protect us.”
Catholic priest Lazarus Girevulo of Saint Paul the Apostle Seminary managed to escape from the marauding believers after a sound beating, but his white pickup vehicle was reduced to a mangled burnt piece of metal, abandoned on the sidelines of a road to Malindi.
A teacher at Saint Paul’s, Bernard Thungwa, who was in the vehicle, said the violent believers carrying stones and metal bars stopped the vehicle, whisked out the priest and dragged him away, as his vehicle received a barrage of stones, overturned and set on fire.
“I was just in time to sneak out of the vehicle, otherwise I would have been killed,” said Thungwa, saying Girevulo was saved by some sympathisers who rushed him to the hospital before hiding him away.
President Bakili Muluzi has since condemned the violence, saying he would not allow anyone to throw the country into chaos on religious differences.
“I have instructed the Army Commander and the Inspector General of Police to arrest everyone responsible for the violence and bring them to book,” said Muluzi.
“I am also a Muslim, but I am civilised and I love peace. I will not allow anyone to cause religious strife in this country,” said Muluzi on Saturday during the consecration of Peter Musikuwa as Bishop of Chikwawa Diocese replacing Bishop Felix Mkhori, who is now head of Lilongwe Diocese since two years ago.
Inspector General Joseph Aironi said in an interview the violent, eleven of them already arrested as of Saturday, were acting out of ignorance, as they do not appreciate the global threat from terrorism.
“They do not know what happened in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and we will not tolerate any terrorist elements to use the country as a hiding place,” said Aironi.
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