Karonga groups clash on demos against Paladin: Others want Malawi mine shut down

Groups in Malawi’s northern border district of Karonga are split on whether to go ahead with protests aimed at forcing the Australian mining company Paladin to close down Kayerekera Mine, saying there were in discussion with the company to see how their business concerns could be addressed.

Mass demonstrations are scheduled from 12 to 26 March 2013 and are likely to paralyze the mine’s operations because the main road to the mine will be blocked in various sections thereby cutting supplies to mine, organizers told Nyasa Times in an exclusive interview on Sunday.

The Tutulane Pafikimo Business Association claimed in a statement issued on February 22, 2013 that in conjunction with the Karonga Business Association, Karonga General Traders, Karonga Beef Suppliers and Karonga Poultry Association that they have been against the idea of holding demonstrations against Paladin.

Greg Walker of Paladin: Under pressure from Karonga community
Greg Walker of Paladin: Under pressure from Karonga community

Similarly, the Karonga Youth for Justice and Development (KYJD), which is believed to be bankrolled by Paladin Energy Limited, said it is against the planned demonstrations, saying the move is likely to affect the local economy.

In November 2012, Paladin paid KYJD MK900, 000 to stop similar demonstrations which were slated for 14 –17 November, 2012.

But this time around Paladin Energy Limited General Manager for International Affairs Greg Walker said his company has not paid any organization.

KYJD said that they were against the protest because they signed an agreement with Paladin and the Ministry of Mines to give dialogue a chance.

“Further, the people of Karonga doubt the integrity of the organizers and their motive,” reads the letter co-signed by Chairperson Ngwire Viyuyi and Secretary Steve Simsokwe.

The duo also said there was no need for protests saying the contents of the agreement between Malawi government and Paladin will be made public soon.

“Therefore it is illogical, unjustifiable and senseless to hold demonstrations while ignorant of the contents. We are appealing to patriotic Malawians from these demonstrations because of negative consequences such as disruption of businesses and the creation of fear and tension,” they said.

But in another petition to Karonga District Commissioner and the Officer-in-Charge of Karonga Police dated February 22nd 2013, a copy Nyasa Times obtained, spokesperson for demonstrations Wavisanga Silungwe said the protests will go ahead as planned.

Silungwe said the Karonga Business Community, which he represents, is now holding open consultations and rallies to sensitize people on the impending demonstrations.

“We want to civic educate the community on how we should conduct peaceful and unarmed demonstrations. This will take us to Kayerekera village. We will also engage police on this exercise,” Silungwe said.

The meetings are taking place at Ngerenge, Mwenilondo, Mwanjabala, Kafikisila, Sere and Bwiba according to Silungwe.

According to Silungwe only 20% of the local business community benefit from Kayerekera Uranium Mine while the rest are foreign business outlets that supply everything from eggs, vegetables and even Milk.

However, Tutulane Pafikimo Business Association is blaming Chairperson of the Organizing Committee Clement Mwakyanjala and Silungwe for orchestrating the protests querying which business community the duo represent.

“We don’t know what type of business they operate and where their offices are. Most business people belong to the groups we have listed in the statement,” reads part of the statement.

Walker claimed to Nyasa Times in an email on Sunday that Chairperson of the Organizing Committee Mwakyanjala had informed paladin that he is calling off the protests.

But Mwakyanjal said he has never talked to Walker or any other Paladin official.

Tutulane also claimed in the statement that the media release had the blessings of Paramount Chief Kyungu.

Paramount Chief Kyungu is also on record saying many people in Karonga and Chitipa districts had high expectations that Kayelekera Uranium Mine would bring tremendous change in socio-economic development of areas around the mine.

“What we see is a plane from South Africa to Kayelekera three times a week but in terms of social responsibility, there is nothing and we do not know what is happening,” Kyungu said

Paladin has always indicated that it had invested MK5 billion for social development projects in Karonga but locals think this is a ‘farce’ arguing that the company is unable to account for it.

But international media quotes Aidwatch  which said Paladin used Australian tax payers’ money for building its corporate social responsibility a development the watchdog are against, saying the “corporations are wealthy enough to bankroll their own aid and that linking donations to controversial mine operations is a conflict of interest”

Australian media quoted Aidwatch director Thulsi Narayanasamy saying it was not the place of the Australian aid program to fund the corporate social responsibility programs of wealthy mining companies.

However, Walker said repeatedly defended his company, saying it is doing more on social responsibility.

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