An enduring impression of the recent demonstrations in Malawi were photos of cadets from President Bingu wa Mutharika’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) wielding panga knifes in a show of force in Blantyre to intimidate Malawians from holding mass demonstrations, which had been slated for July 20.
Demonstrators protested typical African problems: bad governance and the poor state of the Malawian economy.
News reports from Malawi said the DPP youths chanted the refrain: “If you criticise Bingu, we will deal with you; if you attack government, we will deal with you” as they drove through the streets and occasionally stopping to sharpen the menacing weapons on the tarmac.
In typical fashion, presidential and DPP spokesman Dr Hetherwick Ntaba dismissed as untrue that the party youth militia had paraded on the streets wielding big knives.
“Give us the evidence that this is happening,” he said when contacted by a Malawi Democrat reporter.
But the evidence was there on websites which carried pictures and videos of the marauding youths.
Here at the weekend, the Press carried pictures of Zanu PF supporters who disturbed proceedings in Parliament where they pulled an MP out of the House and assaulted him before attacking journalists. Zanu PF, who are very quick to paint the MDC-T as a violent party, had not formally commented on the conduct of its supporters at the time of writing this piece.
It is an embarrassment to the party and in such situations, the usual line from the leadership is to either disown supporters or to simply plead ignorance of incidents of violence.
A tacit illustration of this was last year when VP Joice Mujuru told a business conference that President Robert Mugabe did not know about the political violence perpetrated by Zanu PF supporters against the MDC.
“If you are out there and you kill in the name of Zanu PF, the law will catch up with you because an offence (once) committed should be brought to justice. Zanu PF won’t protect you.
We don’t want to be a country known for murder and harassment,” said Mujuru.
But there is a lot of violence that has been committed in the name of the party by youths whom President Mugabe takes so seriously that he has elected to spend a week in the company of youngsters at the UN high level meeting on youths.
At the week-long shindig in New York, President Mugabe spoke of his efforts to empower youths in Zimbabwe and condemned “any country or group of countries that uses the plight of young people in weaker states to achieve their own sinister political ends, such as regime change”.
He espoused the “virtues” of the National Youth Training Service which he said instilled a sense of patriotism and national identity in young people.
He steered clear of how his party uses young graduates of the programme to canvass for votes. There is no denying that youths in this country have been used by politicians for “sinister political ends” which remains a grave danger to national development.
Can Zanu PF disown youth group Chipangano in Mbare, whose exploits in extorting money from vendors and transport operators is well-documented?
Youths involved in the group have been made to believe that their conduct is a facet of empowerment.
A number of youth programmes which have been presented as empowerment initiatives are, in fact, indoctrination and orientation projects which have very little to do with wealth creation and sustainable development.
Our rulers must know that youth empowerment is not creating a cadre of youngsters beholden to a benevolent father figure whom they must protect at all cost. This is called patronage and there are pitfalls associated with it.
The youths should always remember VP Mujuru’s words: “Zanu PF won’t protect you.”
Delegates at the UN youth summit need to know this point.