Malawi releases 377 prisoners to mark Independence Day

By IndepthAfrica
In East Africa
Jul 6th, 2012
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Malawi’s President Joyce Banda on Friday released 377 prisoners to mark 48 years of independence from Britain, but left child rapists to “die” behind bars.

Most of the inmates released had “served at least half of their prison sentences with good behaviour and were not convicted of serious crimes”, the home affairs ministry said in statement.

But Banda refused to sign parole papers for men who rape virgins in the belief that will cure them of HIV.

“Let them die there. It will be possible to bury them in one mass grave. This is a serious matter,” she said in the local Chichewa diaiect in her maiden independence day speech during national a prayer meeting led by Christian and Muslim clerics.

Defilement, as child rape is usually referred to in Malawi, is a serious problem in the poverty-stricken country where belief still holds sway that sleeping with a virgin can heal sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS.

Diplomats, top government officials, retired president Bakili Muluzi, opposition politicians and scores of Malawians, attended the prayer session at an international conference centre in Blantyre.

Malawi’s 23 prisons hold 12,000 inmates — double their capacity — and a former top judge has described them as “hell on earth”.

Malawi marked its independence anniversary without pomp and fanfare, because the former British colony is broke.

Foreign donors that contribute at least 40 percent to Malawi’s national budget had pulled the plug on aid in protest at the late president Bingu wa Mutharika’s autocratic tendencies.

Banda, who came into power two months ago after the sudden death of Mutharika in April, ordered low-key celebrations, saying there was no money for partying since the country was recovering from the suspension of foreign aid.

The president said Malawi could not afford to splash over 150 million kwacha (560,000 dollars, 451,000 euros) on independence festivities, which in the past involved police and military parades and displays, traditional dances and several banquets.

But not everyone was happy with the government’s decision.

Aubrey Mchulu, a columnist at the privately owned Nation newspaper, said independence celebrations were “time to reflect on the past and chart a realistic way forward as we pop the champagne”.

“Yes, the economy needs recovering, but independence celebrations are historical and a symbol of nationhood. We should have them every year and at any cost,” said soccer fan Yunus Sanudi, queuing up outside the main stadium for the football match.

Banda said as Malawi clocked 48 years as an independent state, it was time to take stock and ask why the country was “still poor and what is it that we can do?”

“My agenda is to end poverty.”

The president said she did not understand why Malawi “which has not been at war”, was ranked second after Sierra Leone in terms of the highest maternal deaths.AFP

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