His cries for justice have been nothing more than a soliloquy: One small man on a bare stage against a big institution.
From close range, his right and left eyes look faultless: Twinkling and with seemingly healthy black spots.
It is only at close range that one is confounded by the truth: The left eye does not blink.
In fact, it is an improvised ‘eye’ placed in the original sockets where the real eye, now forgotten, used to be. It is also smaller than the right hand-side eye.
When G’bray Sangala, a clinician, opened up on what led to his condition, it was hard to look at the eye glasses he will have to use for life, or at the plastic eye in the left socket, without a creeping wonder: What happened?
“I used to be a very handsome man. I was born with functioning eyes. Those who saw me grow up can attest to that,” G’bray says.
“It all started on March 21 1997 when I was a third-year student at Malamulo College of Health Sciences – at Makwasa— in Thyolo, where I was pursuing medical studies. While there, I fell in love with a fellow student, who assured me that she was single and had no boy-friend. Coincidentally, one of the students at the college knew her and was in good terms with her former boy-friend. He phoned the ex-boyfriend and informed him that she was now seeing another man,” G’bray explains.
G’bray says the girl’s ex hired a man, who accompanied him [the ex] to Makwasa, where they lay in wait for G’bray at one of the drinking joints. He says when he went for a cold bottle of beer at the drinking joint, he saw the two assailants drinking beer in the company of the college mate and thought that they were there attending to their own business.
“Then, late in the evening, the two pretended to be leaving the bar and, thinking that it was time for me to go back to the college campus, I left the bar, only to be surprised with blows that were landing on my body from everywhere. I, then, realised that I was being attacked by the two imbibers I had seen in the pub.
“They attacked me with weapons such as broken bottles, some of which were inserted into the skin close to my left ear. It took the expertise of medical officers at Makwasa [Clinic] to pull the skin back into its place, but I have a permanent scar. The attackers also pierced my left eye with broken pieces of glass bottles and that was the last thing I saw before I fainted. I am told that I spent three days at Makwasa Hospital, before being referred to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, where the left eye was removed and replaced with the plastic one you see here today,” says G’bray, touching the eye to prove that it does not work and is insensitive to pain when touched.
G’bray says he was rescued by the proprietor of the pub, who saw him being attacked while driving home, and came out of his vehicle to rescue him. It was him, too, who made transport arrangements to the hospital.
For venturing out on a drinking bender, G’bray was dismissed from Malamulo College of Health Sciences, a training institution managed by Seventh-day Adventist Church. He says the institution, being a Christian entity, did not tolerate the habit of beer-drinking
Seeking justice, his father — the late James Sangala— pursued the matter with police at Thyolo Police Station and the law enforcers ended up arresting Chikumbutso Makwinja and Robert Maunje as suspects. However, the later was diagnosed mentally-unsound and excused from the case.
However, it is the wheel of justice that has made G’bray inpatient.
“The case was referred to Thyolo Magistrates’ Court in 1997, when the defendants were given bail. They, however, started absconding court appearances in 1998 and only one of the defendants could appear in court at any given time while the other one would offer an excuse. This prompted the presiding magistrate to order that the defendants be arrested so that they could be appearing in court while being held by police,” he said.
He said police officers from Thyolo later told him that Makwinja could not be traced and progress in the case stalled between 1999 and 2004. In 2005, G’bray went to Thyolo Police Station to follow up on the issue and found new staff who told him to “Just leave the issue; 1997 is such a long time. Just forget it!”
Unrelenting, G’bray volunteered to carry out a man-hunt for Makwinja, and only traced him in 2009. He, then, reported his findings to the Officer-in-Charge at Thyolo Police Station, who assigned a police officer to effect the arrest in November the same year.
Then, the State Advocate suggested in 2011 that, since the defendant and the first State Witness (G’bray) were based in Blantyre, the case be transferred to Blantyre.
“The issue was handled by a number of magistrates in 2011. The last time we were in court is 2012, when the presiding magistrate said that what was remaining was the ruling. But, up to now, I have heard nothing from Blantyre Magistrates’ Court. I have gone there with the one who was representing me, Jailesi Chafunsa, and every time we have not been told anything tangible,” says G’bray, adding:
“Sometimes I thought Chafunsa was lying to me that he went to court to inquire on progress and was not told anything tangible. So, I have gone there several times myself and every time I am told that, ‘Wait, the case is not ready; wait, the presiding magistrate has gone to the United States; wait, we will inform you when any development crops up’. To say the truth, I am tired of being patient. I have waited for justice for 23 years now and I am craving for justice.
“The lack of my left eye has brought a lot of misery to my life. I cannot go for further medical studies because I overstrain one eye [the right eye]. Whenever I work on the computer, or watch television, it swells up because I over-work it. I used to be a nice football star before the 1997 incident but my football career was doomed because of the incident. It also pains me that I will have to live with the reality of wearing eye glasses for the rest of my life. This was never part of my life-plan. Lastly, the incident affected me psychologically, and I remember the time I became so hopeless that I just wished to die.”
In 2015, the then Judiciary spokesperson Mlenga Mvula indicated that ruling was yet to be made in the case involving the State versus Chikumbutso Makwinja, but blamed the State advocate for not following up on the issue of ruling date.
“Of course, from the look of things, the incident took place in Makwasa and the suspects were arrested in 1997 before being released on bail up to 1999. Mr Sangala was advised to be operated on by a white doctor and the issue started in court in 1999 before one of the defendants got diagnosed to be mentally ill.
“The prosecutor then died while the file of Mr Makwinja versus the State couldn’t be traced at both the court (Thyolo) and police (Thyolo). Mr Sangala went to complain to the Officer-in-Charge and another file was opened and the case was reopened. The matter was started again at the Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate Court in State Advocate Chambers,” Mvula is on record to have said.
On Wednesday this week, G’bray was distraught that there had been no movement in the case.
“Nothing has happened in the case. Progress has not been made. Some of the presiding court officers have now been promoted to chief resident magistrate, others to other positions, signalling progress in their lives. In my case, there is no progress. There is no progress because there has been no movement in the case. I just want justice to flow freely like water,” G’bray says.
He only hopes that there is closure to the case in his lifetime.