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Landmine victims’ long search for justice

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LIMPING THROUGH LIFE—
Kabango lost his right leg after stepping on a landmine

Along the border with Malawi and Mozambique, landmines—which are remnants of a civil war that raged in that country—have left some Malawians with painful scars and in poverty, THOMAS KACHERE writes.

Twenty-eight years ago, Michael Kabango, was living a normal life before he lost his right leg in an attack that he was initially never involved in.

All along, he had been sufficiently providing for his family until he stepped on a landmine on his way to his crop field in Mwanza District.

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The incident happened on May 10, 1992 around 7 o’clock in the morning.

For all these years, his fight to get compensated has remained stuck in offices where he has persistently been told that he would be helped “any time”.

“The landmine blew up my leg and ever since, I have been struggling because I cannot work like I used to before,” Kabango, from Traditional Authority Nthache in the border district, states.

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He further states that at the time of his fate, he was trailing a lady who recounted later what she had seen after Kabango had stepped on the landmine.

“According to the lady, I was blown into space covered by dust and black smoke. All my clothes were destroyed in the blast and she could not see where my leg had gone. I was told that the blast was heard several kilometres away and people came to see what had happened. They found me unconscious,” Kabango says.

After he had been taken to hospital, soldiers from both Malawi and Mozambique followed up. This was so because the landmines had reportedly been planted by Mozambican rebels during a civil war that ravaged that country.

“I remember that the soldiers took me to the scene where they took pictures and told me that the landmine was set in Malawi’s territory by Mozambican rebels.

“I am asking civil society organisations to help me get assisted since from that time, I lost my livelihood. There were many witnesses including Traditional Authority Nthache, the then District Commissioner for Mwanza and others,” Kabango says.

He adds that the Mozambican government had promised that it would compensate him but the waiting is getting longer and longer.

Kabango’s mother, Teresa Mafunga, says she became equally affected the day her son got injured in the blast because he is the one who used to support her socio-economically.

John Nazalio of Nkwete Village in the same district also recalls that he and his friend were on their way to a funeral when they heard the sound of the explosion that crippled Kabango.

“We rushed to the scene and found Kabango panting heavily and asking for water to drink. This was after he had come to life. We carried him to the main road where fortunately a vehicle used by the District Commissioner of that time was passing by. It picked Kabango to hospital,” he narrates.

On his part, Frank Malisero, who is Group Village Head Nkwete, believes that if more officials become aware of Kabango’s situation, he will swiftly get help.

According to the local ruler, it is difficult to accept that there is justice for everyone in this country when someone who got injured several years ago has not yet been compensated.

Our scrutiny at Mwanza District Council found that most officers who were handling the issue are no longer doing that because they either got transferred elsewhere or died.

But a former Malawi Defence Force soldier confided in us that when civilians get injured by military weapons, there are procedures that are followed for the victims to be assisted.

He wonders why nothing is happening in the case of Kabango.

“In cases of civilians being injured by military weapons, the first thing is that the matter should be reported at the nearest barracks where forms are filled for the commanding officer to make his recommendations after a medical assessment has been done,” the ex-soldier said.

Chairperson of the Human Rights Consultative Committee Robert Mkwezalamba says it is unfortunate that the state is not taking responsibility over a matter involving one of its citizens who desperately needs help.

“We are talking about a conflict in Mozambique, involving soldiers and rebels where Malawi was in a way involved, so it remains a responsibility of the Malawi government to ensure that Kabango is fairly compensated. The fact that he has stayed all these years without being helped is worrisome,” Mkwezalamba says.

Reports also show that some people even lost their lives after stepping on landmines but their families are still waiting for the day they will be compensated.

The civil war in Mozambique was fought from 1977 to 1992 between Frelimo and Renamo forces and a number of smaller factions.

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