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Reggae, Sedition, Food Prices and Death

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Police in Malawi opened fire Wednesday on Rastafarians and student demonstrators in the university town of Zomba, east of the commercial city of Blantyre, killing one student and arresting three others. The student killed, Fanikizo Phiri, 24, was shot in the chest. A second student, 17-year-old Lovemore Luhanga who was shot in the neck, is still in a critical condition. "It was a very peaceful and sensible march," Ayatu Chidothi a Zomba towner said, adding he did not see why the police had to go to the extent of using live ammunition to manage what he termed "peaceful march". The protest concerned the mysterious death of outspoken reggae musician Evison Matafale while in police custody last week. Matafale died three days after he was arrested for allegedly writing a seditious letter to President Bakili Muluzi. The students were also protesting against the rising cost of living (A 50 kg bag of maize has risen to 1 000 Malawi kwacha from 350 kwacha in July, too high for most of the country's majority poor) and the arrest of another man charged with sedition for writing critical letters to President Muluzi and his government.

Police Commissioner Bamus Kumalasa would not comment on the use of live ammunition, saying investigations were under way.

Also, on Wednesday police in Blantyre stopped the rasta community from marching to deliver a petition to the Office of President and Cabinet to be handed to State President. The petition was to demonstrate the concern over the inclusion of Lucius Banda on the official inquiry Commission established by the government. Music Association of Malawi (MAM) chairman Davie Mafuleka said he was shocked at the composition of the inquiry team saying some members are incompetent and are likely to slant the probe. He singled out Lucius Banda whom he alleged was a rival of Matafale wondering how Banda was going to compromise with the fallen hero he never agreed with when he lived. The rastas have since given President Muluzi seven days to dissolve the commission or face rastas' wrath. Other marches in many districts were also stopped by the police.

Evison Matafale was one of the country's best loved musicians. Matafale had only recently become a big star -- the 32 year-old reggae singer released his first album last year. But being an outspoken rastaman made Matafale a troublesome figure for Malawi's government, which he politely and occasionally criticized in song. There's been some speculation that Matafale was arrested because of controversial comments about Malawi's president that he'd made recently in concert. Matafale's brother, Tichitenji, blamed the police for his death, saying they had beaten him up and detained him last Saturday while he was recovering from a bout of malaria. Other family members confirmed that he was arrested shortly after falling ill with malaria. They said the police told them he would only be taken for brief questioning in the city of Blantyre and returned home. However, a police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Matafale was transferred to the capital, Lilongwe, on Saturday night and was then held at a prison there. According to the official, Matafale was then interrogated for his political views. According to Charles Mwasambo, the administrator of the Lilongwe Central Hospital, Mataflae died of pneumonia.

Thousands of fans, musicians, and Rastafarians clogged the streets of the town of Chileka to bury Evison Matafale. At the funeral, Rastafarians alternated between singing lyrics from Matafale's songs such as There Is No Reason To Fight and chanting for revenge against the police who they blame for the singer's death.

Sources: Daily Times (Blantyre), BBC, The World, AFP, IOL, Reuters

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