Editorial: Banda, stick to principle
Less so some of the better moments involving our spooks and diplomats. In the strange case of Malawi's presidential succession, it seems that South Africa helped to prevent a coup aimed at preventing Joyce Banda from taking power.
We don't know what happened when top officials went to meet the "ailing" Bingu wa Mutharika at Waterkloof airforce base. Were they aware before he was wheeled off the jet that the president was in fact dead, the tube in his mouth inserted as part of a bizarre charade aimed at buying enough time to forestall Banda's inauguration? It didn't fool the doctors at 1 Military Hospital for long. But Mutharika's brother Peter, and his cohorts in Malawi's capital Lilongwe, tried to keep the farce going long after the corpse had been taken to a mortuary in Pretoria. Eventually the South Africans told the plotters that they would face the ignominy of having the president's death announced by President Jacob Zuma if they did not do it themselves. That, it seems, pulled the rug out from under the conspiracy.
We know all this thanks to a commission of inquiry set up by Banda to investigate the circumstances of the Democratic Progressive Party's attempt to block her constitutionally assured elevation to the top job. This is welcome, but Banda's response is questionable. She was broadly aware of Peter Mutharika's efforts against her, and has in the past insisted that she would not act vindictively against those involved. In the wake of the report, however, 12 current and former ministers, including Mutharika, have been arrested. Why the change of heart? Does it have anything do with the fact that Banda, sometimes called "the accidental president", faces an election next year? She has pushed through a tough, unpopular but necessary economic programme, which is beginning to bite hard.
We admire much of what Banda has done, not least her support of press freedom and her rejection of the elaborate trappings of state. Having stood so firmly on principle, she should run her election campaign on it too, rather than resorting to the politics of the treason trial.