For those familiar with Malawi’s political history post 1994, especially those who at some point were in the United Democratic Front (UDF) decade-long rule’s crossfires, Sam Zimba is no strange name. And Zimba was synonymous with one with one thing: terror.
For there has been no political hooligan, before or after Zimba, who has incarnated his name in political violence infamy more. At his peak, he saw no boundaries. No individual or rank was beyond his violent reach.
A story is told of how Gwanda Chakuamba and Brown Mpinganjira, then prominent leaders of opposition ganging up to oust President Bakili Muluzi, were attempting to address a political rally in Kasungu before Zimba and his panga-wielding goons chased them right into a police station where the two probably thought they had found refugee.
But Zimba was the law unto itself. He stormed the police station, got hold of the two politicians, and gave them a beating of their lives, without any soul, whether in police uniform or civilian regalia, doing anything or saying a word, let alone throw a handcuff at him.
There are many episodes of Zimba-inspired violence during the Muluzi era and back then, Zimba was an embodiment of UDF violent Young Democrats, not the exception.
And we all know how it all ended badly for Zimba. Muluzi was visiting Kasungu— Zimba’s home district and his supposed fiefdom—and during a rally, one of the senior chiefs in the district, Wimbe, complained of prevailing hunger.
Those familiar with the episode recall that soon as the chief finished his address, Zimba called for the chief back stage, gave him a beating to the bewilderment of all present.
For the Chewa tribe, built on the carefully orchestrated oversized role of the chief, the act was beyond abomination. Three days later, Zimba was dead, succumbing to a mysterious illness.
And it was not just chiefs or politicians who suffered from Young Democrats’ reign of terror. Women, church leaders, students were all brutally beaten by the party youths, sometimes fatally.
And we also know where that left UDF, too. UDF’s failure to accept democratic norms left it at loggerheads with the citizenry and when the party failed to rape the constitution to allow its deity to continue lording the country as long as Muluzi—the deity—pleased, the candidate who was imposed as the party’s torchbearer, Bingu wa Mutharika, saw the writing on the wall.
Once in office, eager to please the citizenry, he dumped UDF to form the DPP and give the country a fresh start.
UDF has been on the deathbed ever since.
But it appears DPP only took the bad lessons from the UDF episode. Each time DPP panics, the party unleashes violence on its opponents or dissenting voices.
A day before the country’s biggest ever demonstrations on July 20, 2011, the party advertised its willingness to unleash violent demons—unashamedly sending panga-wielding thugs in party branded vehicles and regalia to scare would-be protestors away from the protests.
The next day, the DPP-led government sent heavily armed police to violently quell the protest. 20 protestors were killed, mostly of gun wounds and scores more were injured. The citizens reciprocated: torched DPP offices and vehicles.
Months on, the party left Robert Chasowa’s corpse claiming the Poly student had committed suicide. Years later, Issa Njauju’s body was found parts vultured by hyenas. Both were a message: messing with DPP is not always a smart idea.
So, say what you can about what is going on right now— the party’s current open season for violence—we have had our say for so long. We had our say after previous acts of violence (like when a video circulated depicting a well-known DPP operative beating an MCP supporter in Blantyre for simply donning his party cloth) or when DPP youths went to parliament, harassed and hackled MPs and fought with police inside parliament’s chambers.
It was right in front of the President during his televised State of the Nation Address.
UDF’s Atupele Muluzi, a member of Mutharika’s own cabinet, has condemned the current wave of violence after DPP thugs almost stripped a woman naked in Mangochi, who once again had the temerity to record a video of their heinous crime.
MCP’s Lazarus Chakwera has spoken out. DPP’s own women committee members joined women from other parties to condemn the action.
We all have had our say, save for one man: President Peter Mutharika.
Mutharika has opted to do what Mutharika does in such circumstances—like the proverbial ostrich, bury his head in the sand. That silence, says much of the kind of leadership we have at State House today.