Blantyre, Malawi – Police in the southern Malawi town of Balaka, some 200 kilometres outside the commercial capital, Monday lobbed teargas into a crowd of angry residents to break up a riot after a police patrol vehicle hit a family of three, killing a woman and a child on the spot.
‘Yes, we had to use tear-gas because things were getting out of hand,’ Titani Chidwala, Balaka police spokesman, told PANA in a telephone interview.
Eye-witnesses said the police patrol vehicle was on high speed when it ran into the family.
‘The driver couldn’t control the Land Rover, swerving from left to right before running over the family,’ said Misozi Divala, an eye-witness.
Divala, who was walking about a 100 metres from the family, said the woman was carrying the child on her back while the man was trailing behind.
‘What angered people is that the police car didn’t stop,’ he said. ‘We started stoning the police post and any police vehicle.’
Balaka Officer-in-Charge, Assistant Commissioner James Bwera, defended his staff, saying it would be foolhardy if he stopped.
‘People were incensed; they could have harmed my staff,’ he said. ‘They did well to drive to the station for reinforcements.’
But the residents could not take that.
‘How could unarmed civilians harm a team of armed officers?’ said Mercy Thomu, who was selling tomato nearby. ‘Police advice motorists against hit and run, how can the same police do the very thing others are warned against?’
The mother and child died on the spot while the father escaped with minor injuries. Thomu suggested that had the officers, who are supposed to be trained in first aid, stop they could have saved life.
‘I urge the Inspector General (Peter Mukhito), even the commander (President Bingu wa Mutharika) to investigate and discipline these people,’ she said Some window panes at the police station were smashed but Kadwala said no police officer was hurt. But some civilians, according to the eye-witnesses, sustained varying degrees of injuries as they stumbled over each other fleeing the teargas.