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How Neno people killed ‘life givers’

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Throughout her life, Eliza Kanjete of Chimbalanga village Traditional Authority Dambe in Neno dedicated her life to doing some kind of charity work –delivering babies.

In the many years she had been a Traditional Birth Attendant, Kanjete had ensured she delivered live babies and she ensured that mothers were fit and back to their usual business.

If you step into Chimbalanga area, you know that you are in the uttermost of the earth.

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Here, poverty is palpable. Located 20 kilometres away from Neno boma, the area is not easy to reach. A trip to the area takes you through an undulating terrain saddled with poverty and deprived of public social amenities.

Schools are few and far between. Health facilities are out of sight. A police unit would be a luxury.

What is visible are round-shaped, grass-roofed shacks. Their doors are made of bamboo sticks and grass.

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In these shelters, people live together with their animals: goats and chickens and cats and all. Even to the non-expert, this is a community saddled with disease and despair and darkness.

Which is why Eliza Kanjete was a flicker of light in her work as a Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA). Government did ban TBAs from delivering babies but what would a community far away from a free hospital and stuck in the rut of poverty do?

Yet, on January 25, 2016, none of Kanjete’s relatives and many people which she served so faithfully in this village for so many years remembered her good deeds, laments her grandson, Alexander Franken.

Kanjete was among the four elderly people who were callously bludgeoned to death. That was only on suspicion –not fact –that they were responsible has “sent the lightning bolt” that killed their relation, 17-year old Flora Kanjete.

Eliza Kanjete, 86, met her fate alongside three of her relations: Elanafa Kanjete, 76, Byson Kanjete, 73, and Idesi Kanjete, 69.

Instead one funeral of Flora, the village had five that day. And they were buried at the same time.

Franken recalled that on this bloody day, he was coming from his maize field when people welcomed him with cries that Flora was no more.

“As I got closer, I found people beating up our elders. People told me that the grannies deserved to die because they sent a lightning bolt that killed Flora,” he explained.

Did he believe in such claims?

“I have known my grandmother as a very kind woman. She has helped so many women to deliver live babies in this village. As you can see it’s far from health facilities. If she was a witch, why didn’t she kill the numerous children she delivered?” questioned Franken.

It is also likely that the baby Flora was delivered by Eliza. So, why did she not kill the baby then? And why would she want to kill her now?

The four were not a burden to the family either. In spite of their being advanced in age, “they did most things on their own and lived in own huts”, according to Franken.

Late Flora’s father, Hamilton Kanjete, said he did not believe in witchcraft story and was shocked by what happened after lightning killed his daughter.

“It wasn’t the first time in my life to witness someone dying after being struck by a lightning bolt. Of course, I have lost a daughter but it’s not in my place to shift the blame on someone,” said the grief-stricken Kanjete.

He remembered that on this day, he had gone to the hospital with his father late Byson Kanjete.

While at the hospital, he got a message that his father was wanted as his granddaughter had passed away.

“Both of us didn’t know that it was a plot. My father was recalled because he was believed to be the ring leader for the group that was said to have killed my daughter. We were on a bicycle and everything happened so fast,” narrated Kanjete.

He said late Flora had never been to school, had two children (aged one and three) and was divorced.

Franken and Flora’s father sounded like people failed by their own people.

The four that were murdered, all of them advanced in age, were fountains of wisdom; they were emblems of how to live long in a country where life expectancy hovers in the 40s.

Yet the community failed to appreciate how invaluable they were.

Franken and Kanjete were also failed by the state apparatus too.

The area does not have a police unit. Their nearest is Neno Police Station which is located 20 kilometres away from Chimbalanga village.

The Daily Times learnt that the police arrived at the scene of the incident only around 3pm way after the angry mob had already killed the four senior citizens in cold blood.

On our visit to the village last week, courtesy of the Malawi Police, The Daily Times observed that the Kanjete clan was still in grief trying to understand how this happened.

And this atmosphere has been worsened by the arrest of their 12 relatives on suspicion that they had a hand in the killing of the four.

Speaking at a sensitisation campaign which Malawi Police Service held in the area because of the incident, Inspector General of Police, Lexten Kachama, admitted that the area is remote and the incident would have been contained had there been a police unit in the area.

“This area is disconnected from many social amenities. If we had a police unit, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said in his address to the Chimbalanga community.

Kachama said the Malawi Police Service (MPS) has a new fleet of vehicles and that one of them would be sent to Neno Police Station to aid movement of officers.

But he asked the communities to, in conjunction with the district council, put up a structure and a couple of houses for a police unit. The MPS would send staff to man the unit, he said.

Neno District Council in collaboration with traditional leaders in Chimbalanga area and Traditional Authority Dambe have since embarked on sensitisation meetings on witchcraft laws.

Group Village Headman Chimbalanga said there had been rumours implicating people into witchcraft but it had never gone to the extent of people killing each other on the basis of those rumours.

“As you can see this area is away from many things and illiteracy is very high. I believe the attitude will change after this sensitisation and many others to come,” he said.

One can only hope it will change.

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