On Tuesday this week, Malawi Police Service held the long-awaited press briefing regarding its inquest on police officers that are alleged to have sexually assaulted women and girls at M’bwatalika, Msundwe and Mpingu in Lilongwe rural. At least the public might feel pacified after the authorities at Area 30 finally came out in the open, promising that they will not shield any of their own who will be found to have committed the despicable acts.
Well, like the many doubting ‘Thomases’ out there, I too equally experienced a bout of doubts tumbling through my mind with the declarations by the men in uniform at Area 30 that they will spare no one found in the wrong, of course stressing that, as per the rules of justice, they would be accorded right to be heard and top an attorney.
But let us not jump the gun; the first step for Area 30 is to see to it that suspects are called in for questioning. Just like they do with ordinary citizens who they easily round up whenever suspected of committing crimes, everyone is anxiously waiting for the day we will see or hear that such and such police officer is in custody to answer a couple of questions for their role in the infamous Msundwe matter.
It has to be said from the outset that the delay by the police to make any statement somehow fuelled the scepticism within public spheres, which probably explains why the likes of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) wasted little time in incorporating the issue among their agenda for the demonstrations that were slated for Thursday. As to whether it was the right call to make by HRDC to take their protests right up to the gates of Area 30, that is up to you to decide.
It was bad for public relations and indeed for the law enforcers to have waited since October when they first indicated that they would launch own probe on the issue, only to keep everyone in the dark until now where they are singing a fresh tune; that the first probe was concluded and the second one is in motion, having been launched on December 31 2020.
The fact is: Previous inquiries into matters that have involved the police have not yielded much dividends; for example, the Robert Chasowa inquiry and more recently the death of Buleya Lule.
This is why I choose to remain skeptical while still giving the benefit of doubt to the police that they will indeed do what is right and ensure that justice is served.
What to wear
While we all patiently await the outcome of the constitutional court regarding the disputed presidential election results for May 21 polls, somebody somehow decided to serve us a dish to ensure that there is no starving in as far as debate in the public domain is concerned.
Just when we all thought we had seen the last of the wrangle bordering on whether to allow Moslem women wear Hijab in public-run school owned by the Anglican Church in the Eastern Region when the two sides clashed sometime last year, it has now transpired that some of the concerned Moslems have obtained an injunction from the courts to stop the church against preventing their wards from attending classes while in Hijab.
We will not dwell on the matter in court but my simple take is that Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is solely to blame for letting the matter spiral out of control. Instead of being decisive on the subject, the ministry kept ‘fumbling in the dark’ by seemingly pushing for freedom of religion and that of dressing, before quickly realising that it had perhaps not given such kind of consideration last time around when a bunch of Rastafarians took to the streets to push the ministry into allowing their children to wear dreadlocks in class. Why am I adamant that the ministry is to blame? It is plain simple; the ministry has its long-standing policy on the same and unless somebody tells me they have shifted goalposts, then the ongoing would be justified.
There was no point dragging the problem further by referring the matter to Public Affairs Committee (Pac), which by then was already pre-occupied with ongoing peace mediation talks on the political front and its subsequent elections that ushered in new Pac leadership. I should believe the delay to come up with a conclusive position is what has prompted some of the disgruntled Moslems to turn to the courts. Let us just hope the move will not interrupt the school calendar in a major way for learners at the concerned institutions.
For the time being, let us watch keenly as things unfold in court and only then can we, once and for all, conclude this debate on Hijab which Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has miserably failed to resolve.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).