Will protests against Paladin go ahead as planned tomorrow? Updated: Demonstration Called Off

Tomorrow protests against Malawi’s largest mining operator Paladin Africa Ltd. are due to start. However, Karonga’s District Commissioner is reported to have not granted the organisers permision for the two-week-long demonstrations. In addtion, other groups in Karonga are not supporting the protests. It is not yet clear whether or not protests will go ahead.

At the beginning of February, Wavisanga Silungwe, the chairperson of Karonga Business Community, asked “Why have Paladin in Malawi?” when he announced that he had resumed plans to demonstrate against Paladin, the operator of Malawi’s largest mine, Kayelekera Uranium Mine. However, at the end of February, Nyasa Times reported that other groups in Karonga were not backing this planned protest.

Last week on Thursday, Greg Walker, the International Affairs General Manager for Paladin Africa told The Daily Times that 

There were two people organising this demonstration. There was a meeting last Friday and chairperson of the organising committee withdrew which means that there is one person left. There is nothing to be scared of.

Karonga’s District Commissioner Bambe has not granted permission in the interest of maintaining public peace and security, which he explained is one of the main roles in a letter to Silungwe. Bambe expressed that Silungwe plans may result in “anarchy” and that Silungwe has not been cooperative with the district authorities or the paramount chief. In the letter, he wrote

The following bear testimony to my concerns and unwillingness for my office to get involved and support your plans and demonstrations.

  • Camp at Sere River and block Paladin Workers, Vehicles, Coasters and Trucks going to or from Kayelekera mine.
  • Camp at Karonga International Airport, preventing any Paladin visitor landing that day and afterwards.
  • Ask for all vehicles belonging to Paladin that will move around Karonga Township to be packed at Karonga Police Station.
  • On Thursday, 28th February, 2013, Paramount Chief Kyungu invited you together with other businessmen to a meeting at his headquarters which only you out of all invited businessmen declined to attend.
  •  After deducing from the communication received by my Office that two blocks have emerged, one for and the other against the Demonstrations, a situation which is a recipe for anarchy, I called for a meeting in my Chamber on 1st March, 2013 for all concerned parties including Paladin. It was only you that failed to turn up for the meeting out of all the invited concerned parties yet on the previous day you personally assured me that you would attend in person.
  • On 5th March, 2013 Paladin organised an interface meeting where all concerned businessmen were invited in order to map out the way forward as regards issues affecting them and you did not turn up either.
  • On 7th March a DEC meeting was organised whereby I agreed with you to attend and promised to provide a platform where Paladin would respond to your concerns, you never showed interest but rather emailed me a memo that there would be the final meeting at the DC with stakeholders and the Police on the planned demonstration. Be informed that you

In response, Nyasa Times reported last week that Silungwe is undeterred by the letter and has been continuing with efforts to mobilise communities to protest.

However, yesterday, Silungwe published a statement on the Malawi Voice reiterating his concerns and indicating that the protests has been called off because

[T]he Karonga District Commissioner has genuinely observed that this manner [of protests] could have cause [sic] breach of peace and security, we thus agree and we shall have to *re-strategize* hence we declare the demonstration slated for 12th March-26th March called off.”

Billy Mayaya, a renowned Malawian human rights activist, commented on the District Commissioner’s role in barring the planned protests

Update 17 March 2013: Pius Nyondo, a journalist with the Maravi Post, reported that he was not surprised the protests were called off because Paladin has honoured their commitments in Karonga and worked with civil society in the past to find mutually-agreeable solutions. Read his full article online to learn more about these planned demonstrations and the previous demonstrations that were planned and also called off in November 2012.

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