On October 23 2019, some community members under Traditional Authority Nyambi in Machinga District descended on an irrigation scheme, where they destroyed equipment and property worth K55 million on the flimsy ground that the scheme was bringing bad luck to villages. As ISAAC SALIMA writes, former members of the scheme are now penniless and hopeless.
Misham Paul of Makunganya Village, Traditional Authority Nyambi in Machinga District, dropped out of school after being impregnated while in form one. The man responsible disowned the pregnancy in broad daylight, throwing her into a world of hopelessness.
Lady Luck finally smiled at her when, in 2017, she joined Ulongwe Irrigation Scheme in the district.
In so doing, she joined 72 other members of the scheme in tomato and maize cultivation. With a single harvest, she generated enough money and built the house she stays in.
“Before I joined the scheme, I was struggling to make ends meet. My fortunes changed when I joined the scheme because, after the first harvest, I raised enough money and constructed a house. It is not a big one but, at least, it is better than the previous one,” Paul said.
Rabson Austin, from the same area, echoes the sentiments.
“After selling maize and tomatoes, I got a share of K800,000. I invested the money in a house construction project. I had embarked on the project years before but I did not have enough funds to enable me to finish constructing the house. It was after I joined the scheme that I raised enough money and completed the housing project. I am now renting it [the house] out as I stay in another one. I have been doing farming but this was the biggest amount I generated within months,” Austin said.
But the scheme that was geared to transform the lives of community members is now history.
The night of October 23 2019 left indelible and painful marks on the members of the scheme when some irate villagers mobilised themselves and destroyed equipment valued at K55 million at the solar-powered scheme, claiming it was bringing them misfortunes.
It all started when a woman died after a galvanised pipe she was offloading from a vehicle hit her. This followed cases of mysterious diseases that were reported at Malundani Community Day Secondary, which is near the scheme, as students were just collapsing.
“There were reported cases of students mysteriously collapsing. The students claim that a certain woman they were seeing in magic was attacking them. They said the woman was coming from the dam constructed at the scheme,” Austin said.
The villagers destroyed solar panels, galvanised pipes, water pumps, charging systems, batteries and other items worth millions. The farmers are now stranded, as the plantation that was giving them two harvests in a year is now gone, although not forgotten.
“It was a big blow to us. Struggles have become an integral part of our lives again. We could see ourselves being economically transformed in years to come but all this is history. We used to get money while in the comfort of our homes because we were counting on the scheme. I saw myself buying a car in no time,” Austin Andlack, another member of the scheme, said.
With shattered dreams, the villagers claim that the wheels of justice are running painfully slow on the issue.
“We do not know whether we will get justice in this issue. We hear that some people were arrested but we do not know how the case was concluded because none of us was called in court,” Paul said.
However, Machinga Police Station deputy spokesperson Ngwashape Msume said suspects were arrested.
“The issue was concluded because, from the arrests that were made, some suspects were found not guilty and were released, some were fined while those convicted are in prison serving their sentences,” she said.
Msume further denounced mob justice.
“Look, this is a plantation that could have transformed fortunes of the district but, now, we are back to square one because of some individuals who made a wrong judgement.” Msume said.
Under Climate Proofing Project, the Malawi Government, using funds from the United Nations Development Programme, implemented the project with the aim of economically empowering community members.
Machinga District Irrigation Officer Daniel Sambakunsi said it was unfortunate that the scheme did not achieve its intended purpose.
“We, as the government, are promoting irrigation farming with the aim of empowering community members to be self-reliant. These people were able to harvest twice a year and, from their testimonies, you could see what the plantation meant to them. So, this is a big loss not only to the people but also the government,” Sambakunsi said.
He further said the project, which was meant to be implemented within five years, was completed and doubted whether the scheme could be revived.
“We are trying to talk to other development partners so that the scheme can be resuscitated. However, it will not be easy because the materials for implementing the project were destroyed,” Sambakunsi said.
The tendency of disgruntled people taking the law into their hands continues unabated, leaving people destitute, dragging the country back into the pit of poverty. Each day, someone somewhere becomes a victim of such acts.
As such, without committing any crime, Ulongwe Irrigation Scheme members have been pushed back to the impoverished and hopeless life they were trying to escape from. It is a typical case of colourful dreams nipped in the bud.