Fears over instant justice cases
Despite that Malawi recognises the separation of powers and has public agencies put in place to ensure the proliferation of order, the country continues to register cases of mob justice. As ELIJAH PHOMPHO writes, the situation is getting out of hand.
When 29-year-old Samson from Chigombe, Traditional Authority Kalonga, in Salima District left home on the night of June 14 last year, his wife thought he would be back in time to eat his favourite roast maize.
“He never came back home. It took us a day to learn, from police officers, that my husband had been set alight after allegedly being caught opening a bag of dry usipa at Kamuzu Road Market. I am still devastated,” said the mother of five.
It is a type of offence the National Statistical Office, in a publication it released some 11 years ago, described as a “crime of need”, which it described as things people, especially those that lead hand-to-mouth lives, do to have food on the table and not necessarily do harm to their victims.
Today, the wife travels between Kaphatenga Market, where she sells plastic cups, and Salima Town, where she orders the merchandise in her bid to make ends meet.
“After my husband’s death, I have become the bread-winner. It is too much for me. I wish my husband were alive and here with me,” she says.
In another case five years ago, an angry mob demolished a house belonging to a 72-year-old woman they accused of practicing witchcraft in Nkhotakota District.
Two years before that, people in Nkhata Bay set alight a man they accused of sleeping with another man’s wife.
Those suspected of ‘punishing’ him went scot-free.
In Nkhotakota District, an old woman was left stranded after people, who were accusing her of practising witchcraft, demolished her house.
Not satisfied, they also set alight some of her possessions, leaving her hopeless and stranded in a district she calls her own.
In Neno District, family members ganged up against two elderly people— a man and a woman— killing them in broad daylight. To date, nobody has been convicted of the crime of murder.
Earlier this week, a mob in Chikwawa District stoned to death a 12-year-old boy who was operating a dug-out canoe after it sank with people on board.
In the boat accident, which occurred on the Shire River, five people, including a two-year-old boy, were feared dead after the canoe they were sailing in to across the Shire River sank close to Chikuse Island in the district on Tuesday.
Chikwawa Police Station Officer in-charge, Assistant Commissioner Alex Simenti, who rushed to the scene of the accident with a team of law enforcers, said the 12-year-old who was in charge of the canoe was stoned to death.
“This is worrisome,” he said.
Initially, the boy had survived the accident after he successfully swam ashore but the mob accused him of being behind the tragedy through magic and consequently set him alight.
“The people were from Chikuse Island, which is located between Livunzu and Mitondo to its eastern side. The people were on their way to their crop fields, located across the Shire River, when misfortune struck,” Simenti said.
Keneth Manuel, who operates an engine boat belonging to Chikwawa District Council, was asked to lead in the search for bodies.
“I think perpetrators of mob justice should be apprehended and face the law,” Group Village Head Chikuse said.
The Daily Times calculations of Police reports indicate that, in the past eight years, there have been 720 reported cases of mob justice, pointing to a worsening situation.
However, according to our calculations, only 12 ‘perpetrators’ were arrested, before the issues fizzled out and died a natural death.
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa is one of the people who have been advocating against mob justice, saying the country has institutions mandated to handle issues related to suspected crimes.
He indicated that citizens should respect governance institutions.
People’s Federation for National Peace and Development Executive Director Edward Chaka said increasing cases of mob justice called for collaborative efforts.
“Perhaps people have not been sensitised to issues related to the three branches of the government. It could also be that people have lost trust in the system.
“However, only awareness campaigns can help Malawi address problems such as mob justice. We need to join hands so that the rule of law should be restored in Malawi,” he said.
Malawi Police Service spokesperson James Kadadzera said law enforcers do not promote mob justice, encouraging people to take those suspected of committing crimes to court for all the due processes of the law to be followed.
Earlier this year, Home Affairs Minister Richard Chimwendo Banda was at the centre of controversy when he suggested that society should deal with those that defile children.
He later retracted his words, saying he was quoted out of context.