The brutal murder of Buleya Lule in police custody brought to light the levels of torture that suspects experience at the hands of the cops. Of course, it also raised questions about why care could not be exercised in handling someone who might help the nation get to the bottom of attacks on persons with albinism, as REBECCA CHIMJEKA explores.
The late Buleya Lule’s widow, Charity, was sitting on the veranda of her windblown house in Mitundu, Lilongwe, when a breaking news alert on a local radio station captured her attention. She cocked her ears while lugging the little radio closer.
Police officers implicated in the brutal murder of her husband, who had died after being savagely struck with a brunt object and seared with an iron-like item on his left buttock, had finally been arrested.
The news aroused in her joy tinged with pain. It struck a chord about her no-more dear husband while also offering hope that the damned wheels of justice had finally started rolling.
“It was a sad moment on one hand and a hopeful one on the other,” Charity recently recounted to The Daily Times. “I have been fervently praying that one day the truth should come out. Probably, I will never understand why my husband had to be killed like a dog when he had not even been proved guilty.”
Lule died in police custody after his arrest in relation to the abduction and murder of a 14-year-old boy with albinism, Goodson Fanizo.
Thirteen police officers have been charged with murder for their respective roles which they allegedly played in Lule’s death which came at a time some stakeholders felt the truth about attacks on persons with albinism would finally come out.
Charity still retains information about how her husband was being moved on a stretcher from Lilongwe Police Station to Kamuzu Central Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
“Since that day, life has never been the same. I can’t sufficiently take care of the children. Life is really hard,” she said, fighting back tears.
Her son who was selected to William Murray Secondary School, one of the prestigious education institutions in the country, was forced to move to a day secondary school because Charity cannot afford the K250,000 school fees.
Even at the day secondary school, it is a well-wisher who is paying the fees.
Three of her daughters dropped out of school because of lack of support and ended up in early marriages. They are all pregnant now.
For their mother, the only flicker of hope when she stares at her slain husband’s photographs is in the swings of justice.
It is the same hope in Mitundu Market Chairperson Lester Chikunje and other fish vendors who were Lule’s friends. They have welcomed the arrest of the cops and pray that justice will be sufficiently served on them.
They still believe Lule was innocent and that his arrest might have been a case of mistaken identity.
“For 20 years, Lule had been doing business in this market and he would rarely miss a day. He was not a well-to-do person. He was a just a common fish seller with a very small capital. He was not a violent man. He was peaceful,” Chikunje said.
Meanwhile, just like Charity and Lule’s friends, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) and the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) hope justice will not slow down again on the death of the fish vendor.
“We want to see justice on the death of Buleya Lule. This might also help us as a nation to get to the bottom of attacks on persons with albinism especially the killing of Goodson Fanizo in Dedza,” Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa indicated that they will be following up with the office of the Attorney General on the compensation that Lule’s family is seeking.
For Charity, who married Lule in 1999 as his second wife after his first whom he had married in the late 1980s passed away, the task of taking care of the children can be eased if the compensation comes along as soon as possible.
“For the 20 years that we were together, he showed me and the children the best love a man can show. He was always home in good time unless he went out to watch soccer. He was a Chelsea fan,” she says of her husband who was born in Thyolo in 1976 before migrating to Mitundu.
Now that he is gone, she often calls to mind the bitter moment when police officers stormed their house and said they wanted to search it.
According to Charity, they groped through every corner of the house, throwing items in all directions without apparently finding what they were looking for.
“They asked my husband if his name was Luke Buleya. He told them he was Buleya Lule and not Luke Buleya,” Charity said.
When they whisked him away in a police vehicle, she was left hopeless wondering whether the fury on their faces was just about doing their job.
“I was not allowed to see my husband until two days before his death. I asked him if he was involved in what he was being accused of. He could not say anything tangible because he was in great pain,” she recalls.
That time, he simply asked her to get him painkillers.
“I remember there was a woman who was giving painkillers to her husband and could not share because she had nothing left,” Charity says.
That was the last time she saw him alive and ever since, she has been searching for the truth on his death.
A postmortem conducted by pathologist Charles Dzamalala indicated that Lule was tortured to death. An enquiry by Malawi Human Rights Commission concluded that there were no clear links of Lule in the abduction and murder of Goodson.
The report further hooked police officers and other people who might have played their parts in Lule’s death.
In the meantime, Charity and several other people at Mitundu are patiently waiting for how the pursuit of justice will roll this time.
Above all, they want to know why their kin was killed in that way. They also want the care that he was providing to his family to be returned whatever way.
Meanwhile, lawyer George Kadzipatike, who is handling the compensation case has written the Office of the Attorney General (AG) to reconsider the government’s position to wait for the substantive case to be concluded before the compensation claim can be considered.
“You will notice that there is overwhelming evidence in form of a postmortem report produced by Dr Charles Dzamalala and the Malawi Human Rights Commission report to the effect that Mr Buleya Lule was unconstitutionally assassinated by the State agents.
“In our view, the defence which was filed by Government in the High Court is a sham and merely calculated to delay payment of compensation to the family of deceased.
“We therefore request your office to immediately pay our clients the sum of K250 million constituting damages for arbitrary and unconstitutional elimination of life, damages for torture and loss of dignity which the deceased suffered before he died, damages for loss of expectation of life, damages for loss of dependency and legal costs,” reads part of the letter to the AG.
By the time we went to press, the court was yet to set a day for the arrested police officers to take plea after their murder case was transferred from the magistrates’ court to the High Court.