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Brevities on recent newspaper reports

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The news that 82 Malawians have been cornered in South Africa causes anxieties for one or more reasons. Eighty-two is too large a number to be found illegally in the country that not long ago too displayed the brunt side of xenophobia.

From what we read in magazines, the South Africa economy at present grows at less than one percent as compared to three or five percent which are forecasted for the Malawi economy. The unemployment rate is sometimes said to be 40 percent. For anyone to take large numbers of his compatriot to such a country promising them jobs is lunacy.

Incidentally, this aimless journey to South Africa reminds one of Ethiopians who have been arrested in Malawi several times while others have drowned in the great lake in their attempt to reach Malawi through unguarded routes and proceed to South Africa. Magazines report also that Ethiopia’s economy is one of the fastest growing in the whole world. Authorities there have been quoted as saying Ethiopia’s economy will soon be the third largest in Africa. But then why are citizens of that country risking their lives going to a country whose past economic glory is on the decline.

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The same question can be posed about Malawians who are being trafficked southwards. How did the 82 manage to pass through intermediate control border posts? Do they resort to bribing officials there?

Some historical analogues seem to be at work with human trafficking. It tends to originate mostly in districts of Mangochi and Machinga. During the first half of 1890s when the British were colonising this country, chiefs and their nobles in that part of the country constantly clashed with British officials over human trafficking. Whenever a chief stockade was stormed such as that of Makanjira Zarafi or Mponda, the British commander in his report would say he found there hundreds of slaves that had been collected together for sale to Swahili and Zanzibar Arabs. A sociological study is necessary to find out why this pseudo slave trading is recurring in Yao speaking part of the country. Are people there facing harsher conditions than in the rest of the country? It is a pathetic situation deserving not just the hand of the law enforcer but also that of the social worker.

Despite the geographical smallness of Malawi and the homogeneity of its population, some people’s cultural practices are not identical. In some cases, they are in conflict with each other; for example, the attitude to sexual practice in the Shire Valley optimised by the ‘hyena’ man which contrasts with those in Mzimba dominated by the maphinga superstitution.

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Though the Ngoni were notorious for raiding other tribes without provocation just to steal their cattle and women, when it came to moralities, they were strict. They believed that promiscuity leads to enfeeblement and defeat of the army and pestitences.

Premarital practices which are said to be tradition sanctioned in some parts of the country were little tolerated among the Ngoni. A bride was expected to arrive at her matrimonial home as a virgin. The night she was brought at the bridegroom’s home, women relatives of the bride groom examined the virgin reproductive organs to find out if she had slept with men. If they noticed that she was not a virgin, they made a protest against the women who had escorted her. Though the bride was never turned away, the visiting women had to pay a token umhl awulo penalty.

The Ngoni believed that a girl who was engaged in premarital sex would experience difficult labour once she is pregnant and would die of maphinga if not treated with herbs. The word maphinga means illicit sexual practice. The herbalist in administering the herbs would commend the girl to divulge the men she had been sleeping with; otherwise, it was believed the medicine would not work.

When a woman husband died, she was not available for the ‘hyena’ type of Casanova. Instead, once the mourning was over, one of the umfelokazi (widow) brothers would be chosen to inherit her as to give her the support every woman expect from a husband. The widow was never compelled to accept the man chosen for her; she could indicate her preference if there were several brothers or else ask for permission to go get back to her maiden home and wait for someone else to marry her. This request was always given on condition that she left the children at the village of their father to be cared for by relatives of her dead husband. Usually, these relatives were the children’s grandparents. When a woman went to her home on account of her husband death, her parents were not asked to return the lobola (bride wealth) that had been paid for her.

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