Two female Councillors at Mzuzu City Council are engaged in a fierce battle to stop the council from throwing out 110 people with disabilities from the Mayor’s house which the group renovated before occupying.
The group has been utilizing the house as an office to earn an income through a community-based empowerment initiative.
The Council’s only elected female Councilor, Judith Chiume of Msongwe Ward, explained in an interview on Tuesday that the 110 artisans have been learning handcrafts and selling their products from the Mayor’s House under Mzuzu Disability Organization, a community-based Initiative which was spearheaded by their Councilor Joyce Sichali, who represents the interests of persons with disabilities in the Council.
According to Chiume, a verbal agreement with the Mzuzu City Council allowed the Mzuzu Disability Organization to temporarily operate from the Mayor’s House until the initiative finalized the process of securing a disability-friendly office space.
In November, 2017, the initiative with guidance from Mzuzu City Member of Parliament Leonard Njikho conducts training in carpet-making and knitting for 110 people with disabilities drawn from all 15 Wards.
However, Chiume narrated that a year after several unsuccessful applications for the office space to the Ministry of Lands and the Mzuzu City Council , the Councilors have received the shock of their lives in the letter from the Council ordering the CBO to vacate from the office by December 31, 2018.
“In the first place, when Mzuzu Disability Organization moved into the building, we understood the move was temporary, so we went to the Ministry of Lands and applied for land to put up offices which has not come through and off late the Council itself had land at area 6, we quickly went there to apply for land.
“Before all this could come through, we received a letter from the City Council that we should vacate the premises, where are we going to put these people? It’s a community Project for Mzuzu Disability Organization, it’s not a personal thing, it doesn’t belong to anyone,” Chiume said.
Mzuzu City Council Public Relations Officer MacDonald Gondwe confirmed that the Council issued the letter but declined to give further comments.
The letter dated November 27 which is signed by Mzuzu City Council’s Director for Administration Christopher Phiri reads in part: “We write to remind you that we gave you a period up to 31st December 2017 within which you were expected to vacate the building but you defiled the Council’s orders. You are now given a last chance to vacate the Mayoral House by 31st December 2018.”
Meanwhile, the Msongwe Ward Councilor has also decried the harsh treatment of the female councillors by some officials from the Council’s Administration and the discriminatory language used by one male Councillor during an earlier WhatsApp discussion among the Councilors.
A leaked audio recording from a WhatsApp chat of the Councillors, circulated through WhatsApp records one of the Councilors, alleged to be Councilor Dennis Moyo of Mchengautuba West, telling other Councilors in vernacular that the Council should not continue to accommodate the disabled whom he refers to as “opunduka” at the Mayor’s House on the basis of their disability.
Chiume has since described the language used by the said Councilor as ‘terrible’.
“I feel this is terrible and it’s something which is undesired, at the Council we work very well with the CEO and some Councilors but there are a few individuals who actually have put a lot of burden on women leaders,” Chiume said.
And speaking during an interview from the contested house, Councilor Joyce Sichali said that the persons with disability feel very offended by the remarks from one of the Councilor who made discriminatory remarks in defense of the Council’s decision to kick out the disabled artisans.
“To call us ‘opunduka’ [physically challenged] is something that we feel very hurt even the Government has said we should say the disabled. Being disabled should not be a cause of taunting us.
“This house, we are not clinging to it, we know that it is borrowed house, when we are ready and have a Centre, we will move out of this house. We are the ones who renovated this house. At the time when we first came to this house, this house was a dust bin, but after we had no place to go, we fixed this house,” said Sichali.
Female political aspirants have been the target of various threats and injustices from their male counterparts as well as the broader society as the Country approaches the 2019 Tripartite Elections.