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Injured on duty, left to suffer alone

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NOW AT HOME—Luhanga

When Sub-inspector Charity Luhanga woke up on August 18 2020, she was ready to face everything thrown at her, be it armed robbers or violent individuals, for the sake of mother Malawi. However, she fell ended up falling off from a moving Malawi Police Service (MPS) vehicle while on patrol. As THOMAS KACHERE writes, instead of tending to her injury, she has been struggling to get her compensation package.

Never in the mind of Luhanga, who was born in 1980, did it register that some jobs can be thankless.

As such, the traffic officer, who joined MPS in 2001, regarded her job as—apart from her 13-year-old child and relatives—the most important thing to her.

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Being a single mother, the job gave her a sense of security, even though the law enforcer’s job is to address citizens’ insecurity fears.

This was to change on August 18 2020 when, while serving service users on the M1 Road— and due to factors she had no control over— the driver of the State car she and three other traffic officers [the driver inclusive] lost control of the moving machine and veered off the road at Mazengera Turn-off in Lilongwe.

“The driver was speeding and wanted to overtake another car. He, in the process, lost control of the vehicle.

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“I was thrown out of the car. The accident left me paralysed, from chest down to my feet. In fact, I can now only move my head and hands. It was a dangerous accident that affected me badly since it affected my spinal cord,” she said.

The two other officers were treated as out-patients and are now back at work.

Unfortunately for her, three weeks elapsed without being properly assessed or diagnosed, which saw her enduring excruciating pain.

When she finally got assessed and diagnosed, she spent the next six months in hospital.

“I was later discharged to Kachere Rehabilitation Centre, where I stayed for six more months,” she said.

However, her hopes of walking again immediately after being discharged from Kachere Rehabilitation Centre suffered a blow as, when she was told to go home, she was confined to a wheelchair.

When we visited her, we found her in the wheelchair.

To make matters worse, she, as a single mother, has been reduced to relying on a standard seven learner, who is at her beck and call— because there is nobody around to look after her.

Realising that nobody would do anything about her condition, she decided to seek redress at the Industrial Relations Court (IRC).

On October 21 2021, IRC ruled in her favour and awarded her a K33 million, considering that she had nothing to do with the accident and, most importantly, that it occurred in the course of duty.

The office of the Attorney General committed to expedite payment but, 11 months down the line, Luhanga is losing patience because she has not received a tambala.

“I have been hoping that, once I receive the money, I would seek better medical attention outside of Malawi. I just want to be back on my feet,” she said.

Indeed, prior to the accident, she was very active and a bread-winner, providing for her 13-year-old son, elderly parents and siblings.

Luhanga cannot believe it that she can no longer stand and walk. Her physical, mental and emotional statuses are under threat.

“The Malawi Police Service allocated to me a house that is not disability-friendly and, in my paralysed condition, I trouble others to help me access the toilet outdoor.

“And, then, there are people that depend on me and, because I am not going to work despite that I receive my monthly salary, things are hard. You know, there are benefits such as allowances when one reports for work. I am supposed to go for physiotherapy once a week but this does not happen; instead, I only go once every three months because I go when the [Malawi] Police [Service] decides to send a car to fetch me.

‘‘I have been asking the Treasury about the status of my file and they have been telling me that they are waiting for a note from the Ministry of Justice. I feel sorry for myself because I wasn’t born this way but what can I do now? I am pleading with the government to help me so that I can get my money and access advanced medical services,’’ she said.

Lawyer who represented her in court, Gabriel Chembezi, confirmed that the court ruled that Luhanga be given compensation.

‘‘I can confirm that Charity Luhanga was awarded the sum of K31,500,000.00 by the court as compensation for her injuries [which she sustained] in October 2020 and [I can also confirm] that the office of the Attorney General is very well aware of the award,” Chembezi said.

Human Rights Consultative Committee Chairperson Robert Mkwezalamba urged the government to do the needful.

He said there was a need for those mandated to give her the compensation package to act with urgency.

‘‘Let those who are responsible act fast because the woman needs help, more so because, after the court made its determination on the issue, her concerns are valid,’’ Mkwezalamba said.

He lamented that the tendency of delaying victims’ compensation packages was commonplace in government systems.

For Luhanga, it is mental torture that, every day and night, she has to wait for two things to happen: Getting money that rightly belongs to her and being on her feet again. The second basis of her hope depends on the first one being realised.

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