Malawi Police faults government over stadium deaths: Mutharika says action will be taken but no witchhunt

The Malawi Police Service (MPS) has pushed all the blame for the death of eight people during the stadium stampede in Lilongwe to the organizing committee of the Independence Day celebration event.

Task force chair Zangazanga presents report to President Peter Mutharika on Tuesday on July 6th Bingu National Stadium tragedy at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe.- Photo by Govati Nyirenda.

The committee was chaired by the Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwananvekha and include other Cabinet Ministers and senior government officials.

After the incident the Police was at the center of accusations for its stand to resort to firing tear gas which was widely believed to have worsened the situation.

However, an internal police probe report, which Nyasa Times has seen, has pushed the blame to the organizers of the event at Bingu National Stadium.

The report has mainly faulted the organizers of the 53rd Independence Anniversary Celebrations of contributing to the stampede after their directive to change the opening time of the stadium from 6am to 10am.

The report suggests that the main factor leading to the stampede was the delay in opening the gates.

The organizing committee is said to have ordered the gates to be opened at 10 am instead of 6 am as announced earlier at a press briefing by Mwananvekha.

“The delay in opening the gates was the main factor that led to the stampede since the gates were opened around the time set by the main organizing committee. The occurrence of the stampede is attributed to decisions made at preparatory stage as opposed to the actual execution of the preparation,” reads part of the report.

The report indicates that while police officers were deployed on time, the delayed opening of the gates led to crowds becoming too big to be effectively managed.

The Police  justifies the use of teargas arguing that the deployed team lacked proper equipment to manage the numbers and they did not call for standby teams.

“The use of tear gas helped to stop the stampede and enabled police officers gain access to the casualties, had tear gas not been used, the stampede would have led to more deaths, in other words, the use of tear gas saved some lives,” reads the report.

MPS national spokesperson James Kadadzera confirmed the findings as contained in the report but was quick to add that this was the view of the MPS while other findings may suggest otherwise.

Soon after the incident, President Peter Mutharika set up a task to investigate the cause of the death. The task force  presented its report on Tuesday by the task force’s chairperson Zanga-Zanga Chikhosi.

Its report  has faulted a number of areas and players within the organization of the event.

Chief among these is the main organizing committee which has been blamed for poor planning, lack of decision making and their miscalculation in setting 10:00 hours as the time for opening the stadium gates.

The report also notes that the coordination between the main organizing committee and various stakeholders like the Police, department of sports and BNS management was very weak and that their operations were characterized by a breakdown of communication.

“We will certainly look at the report. Wherever there is evidence of culpability or wrongdoing, the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General will make appropriate recommendations and action will be taken,” the President said.

“This was not meant to be a witch hunt but we wanted to discover the truth, learn from it and avoid a recurrence of this accident in future. The recommendations put forward look so comprehensive and I will sit down and look at them,” Mutharika said.

As part of its recommendations, the task force said government should consider constructing a ring road around the stadium to facilitate easy access and speed up evacuation during emergencies.

It also recommends that entry points into the stadium should be kept clear of immobile crowds.

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6 years ago

I feel sorry for the police because most of the times, they fall victims just by the nature of their job. Fisi wakana nsasi apa! I like the recommendations. Once more, may the soul of people that died continue to rip.

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