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In search of home, justice

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In a normal circumstance, any person who is in danger of losing his or her life through any violent act would consider seeking safety at a police station.

The conviction is so because the law enforcers’ constitutional mandate is to provide enough security to protect lives and property of citizens of a country.

But to 40-year-old Mwandama Kawinga, who is Village Head Makaluka of Traditional Authority (T/A) Mwambo in Zomba, the circumstances are different. The police we all look up to for protection have been hunting him like an animal for the past two years, with a serious bloody attempt on his life on December 30 2016, he says.

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Kawinga count himself lucky that he is still alive today despite fleeing his home and is now hiding in the outskirts of Zomba City where he is nursing his wound which he sustained when the law enforcers-allegedly shot at him. The purpose, he alleges, is to conceal and terminate evidence relating to a land wrangle that has been going on for over six years.

He says his sin was to lead his family in going to court to move the Judiciary to intervene in the matter in which some people in their area encroached on their family land.

“We have a land which was left to us by our grandparents. But in 2004, we fled the area because it was flooding, so we turned it into a farming area,” he says.

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In 2011, he says, he was surprised that some people from neighbouring Village Head Mankhokwe started farming on their area. He says he presented the issue to their Group Village Head and T/A where it took over four years without any tangible justice.

Instead, the two parties kept on engaging in bloody fights each farming season until Kawinga and his relatives took the matter to court for final mediation because, he says, he did not want the fights to continue.

But while the matter is still in court, Kawinga, who is a complainant in this case, says he is surprised that the law enforcers have been harassing his family, apparently siding with the other side which he alleges it is using political influence of their Member of Parliament Mark Botomani of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

“I am surprised that while the issue is still in court, police are coming to our village and beat up people instead of waiting for a court ruling. They stole all the goods from my shop worth around K800,000 They arrested my 14-year-old child and kept him in police cell for three weeks because they did not find me. All this because I went to court to seek remedy,” he says.

Apart from that, he claims that the officers destroyed houses belonging to his relatives. They have also been confiscating household items, all this to force his family to withdraw the case and hand over the land in question to the other part. However, the climax of the harassment came on December 30 2016.

“I had just finished having lunch when I saw two police officers, one carrying a gun approaching where I and my family had sat. These two officers did not know me by face, so they asked us to identify who Mwandama was. Nobody responded and the police office with a gun pointed it at my sister, at this moment, I identified myself,” Kawinga says.

After identifying himself, Kawinga says he thought the officers would arrest him. But he says this was not the case as the man in uniform had other plans on this particular day.

“It was shocking that instead of identifying themselves, the officer with a gun pulled the trigger on me and started running away. He aimed at my chest but luckily the bullet landed on my right leg because I stood the moment I knew that he was pulling the trigger,” he says.

The whole village, he says, was left in shock at the police’s action.

“I could not stay at home because this was the fourth time in three months the officers had attempted to kill me. In September, they invaded my home at midnight. Luckily, I was not there and because they did not find me, they broke into my grocery and took all the goods. They broke into my sister’s house and took some electronics equipment as well as money they never returned after releasing my sister and child who spent about three weeks in custody,” he says.

While wounded, Kawinga says he fled his home into exile. After hours, he went to hospital to be assisted but they demanded a police report before operating on his wound, he adds. Kawinga says he could not go to police for fear of the obvious.

With his wound oozing blood, he says he wandered from one place to another until one of his relatives negotiated with a private clinic to assist him. He was charged K70,000 to remove the bullet and stitch his gunshot wound.

Currently, he remains afraid to go home, he says, for fear of being harrased. He says, is even blank as to where he might seek justice and protection now that the very same police he thought would protect him, have turned against him.

“The doctors managed to remove a part of the bullet because the other part is said to be stuck on my bone and they recommended against removing it because it can break the whole bone,” he says.

The nature of his wound requires that he should be attending regular medical checkups but Kawinga cannot manage to do that for fear of police officers, he says.

A 2015 human rights report by the government-funded Malawi Human Rights Commission highlights as an area of concern for the country’s police’s arbitrarily shooting and sometimes

According to the report, police is one of the institutions that are supposed to be professional in their duties in order to promote human rights and the rule of law among the marginalised population

Another report by the British High Commission states that Malawi has made good progress on human rights since the introduction of multiparty democracy in 1994.

Kawinga claims to be a latest victim of police brutality and wants to have answers as to why do the police, instead of waiting for the court judgment on the land wrangle, are busy harassing him and his family.

“I know that the police are being influenced by money given by our opponents who are being sponsored by the MP for the area Botomani. But this is unfortunate because all of us are people and deserve same protection and justice from the police and the court,” he says.

But Botomani denies taking sides in the issue. He says his involvement was to pacify the two parties because the issue was becoming brutal and that he could not see his people engage in fights now and again.

“The District Commissioner (DC) can give you the correct side of the story but what I did as a leader was to inform the Officer-in-Charge for Zomba Police to help control the situation because it was becoming serious such that a lot of people were being injured in the fights,” the MP says.

Eastern Region Police Spokesperson Joseph Sauka says he does not know anything about Kawinga’s case.

He says the law enforcers have no records of anybody complaining to them that he or she was assaulted by their officers, urging Kawinga to go and complain to the law enforcers so that they can take action.

He says: “If he is indeed saying the truth that he was shot at by our officers, let him come forward and report to police. We now have an ethics body that look at such issues and we cannot shield any officer who is suspected to have committed such an offence.”

The police spokesperson, however, admits that previously there have been records of people that have been arrested in relation to the said land wrangle but he says he has no details, which he says can be sought at the Zomba DC’s office.

Zomba DC Emmanuel Bambe confirms to have been handling the land issue and he says his office constituted a jury of some senior chiefs from the district to investigate the matter knowing that customary land is best handled by chiefs.

“To facilitate the investigations, I suspended the two chiefs involved Kawinga and Mankhokwe because the two, being public figures, in my view have failed to ensure that there is peace in their areas as they wait for a court ruling on the same, so I had to suspend them to pave the way for investigations,” Bambe says.

As the two parties continue to wait for the court ruling, Kawinga, who claims that he can name and identify the officers who have been harassing his family and those that shot at him, say he will continue hopping from one hiding place to another.

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