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Refugees in own land

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RESCUED—An officer puts one of the Songwe victims on the back

By Gresham Ngwira

Nobody and not even Covid-19 preventive measures were enough to stop them from expressing their excitement in such a way. They had missed their parents and this was just another good day for them. Such were the feelings of relatives of five elderly women and five children from Bango Village, Traditional Authority Sunganinzeru in Mulanje who had been staying at a ‘safe’ home since mid last year.

Their fate followed the mysterious death of a young man in the village and their old age was enough for them to be crucified. People assaulted them before Police rescued them and took them to Mulanje District Hospital where one of them died. The five who survived and got discharged were later taken to a certain place, including five boys for safety as people at their village swore to kill them if they returned.

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The development troubled the district’s peace committee, a grouping of people from various backgrounds that looks at issues of peace. They engaged people who mattered in the issue like relatives of the deceased and those of the victims. After reaching a consensus, it was time to bring the victims back home to reunite with friends and relatives. As they disembarked from a vehicle; songs, ululations and hugs took centre stage. Indeed, for a moment, they had forgotten that one of the Covid-19 preventive measures is to avoid hugs.

Mulanje District Peace Committee chairperson, Senior Chief Mthiramanja, was happy with the group’s return. He said it is sad that people still harbour some primitive and false beliefs bordering on witchcraft.

He said assaulting and killing the elderly on witchcraft allegations is retrogressive, saying his committee will make sure that such beliefs are rooted out.

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Mthiramanja wondered why the people allowed their parents to stay as refugees in their own country.

“I expect you to take the lead in protecting these senior citizens and children from all forms of abuse. Nobody should insult them in any way because if I hear, my committee will report such person to Police,” he warned.

He said any form of violence, including that which targets senior citizens, is retrogressive.

One of the victims, 60-year-old Miriam Joseph, said she was happy to be back home.

“It is nice that we are back to re-unite with our friends and relatives. It is sad that my own people ganged against us for what they say was our involvement in the mysterious death of our son,” she said.

Humanists Malawi Executive Director, Wonderful Mkhutche also deplored the scenario, saying elderly people are enduring the worst violence due to witchcraft accusations, which is forcing some people to abandon their homes.

He said some of the signs people interpret as witchcraft in old people are dementia diseases.

“First, there is need for public awareness to curb this vice that has rendered many senior citizens homeless. The public should be taught on the law which criminalises anyone accusing someone of witchcraft or even victimising someone in anyway,” Mkhutche said.

He pointed out the need for a new witchcraft law, adding that some religious leaders are having a hand in fanning witchcraft accusations in communities.

Mkhutche noted that when finished, the new law, which is currently being developed, would help control such issues.

He said it is barbaric and inhumane to accuse the elderly of witchcraft and assault or kill them.

He also expressed concern that Malawi is ranked as one of the countries where it is difficult for someone to grow old, with witchcraft being among the contributing factors.

Anglican Diocese of Upper Shire Bishop Brighton Malasa said it is worrisome that abuse of the elderly through witchcraft accusations is continuing.

‘‘As a God-given gift to human beings, life is Holy and must be preserved at every cost. This spirit of killings of the elderly people must in the strongest term be condemned and must stop,’’ Malasa said, adding that even the bible restricts killing.

He then urged the authorities to punish anyone found involved in the malpractice, saying killing is a criminal offence under the country’s laws.

‘‘Do we want to tell our children that when one has grown old then he or she is a witch/wizard? We should not teach our generation, our children wrong things…let us develop positivity as opposed to developing negativity over the elderly. Let us tap wisdom, intelligence, experience, stories and all the treasures we can get from them as opposed to primitive and evil prejudices over them,’’ he added.

Mulanje Police Officer In-Charge, Edwin Magalasi lamented that his office is overwhelmed by cases of violence emanating from witchcraft allegations.

‘‘At first I thought this problem is for a particular area of this district. But later it has been learnt that it happens across the district. Just days ago, we rescued two grannies from Songwe Village in area of Traditional Authority Njema after people descended on them following the death of a boy there,’’ Magalasi said, warning that his charges will arrest anyone who took part in the malpractice.

It is imperative that all stakeholders join hands in providing civic education as regards the need to protect senior citizens and children from violence. In such a way, we will be protecting the sanctity of life and also taming cases of mob justice.

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