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Tightening the noose on assailants of people with albinism in Malawi

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SATISFIED—Masanjala (right) and fellow lawyer Dzikondianthu Malunda

By Jameson Chauluka & Richard Chirombo:

Four years and three months later, birds still sing all day in Nakawa Village, Machinga District, even if one of the people that admired them, namely MacDonald Masambuka, is long gone.

Four years ago, on March 9 2018, MacDonald, a man Andrew Patson from the same village describes as an “affable character”, disappeared. Just like that.

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The development took MacDonald’s father, White Masambuka, by surprise.

His son could not just disappear like that, he enthused, for he was someone who always alerted him to his whereabouts, a development the father attributes to the close bond they had.

At first, it was reported that he had left the family home for the marketplace, where he wanted to buy a mat, in the company of a friend.

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He never returned home; at least not alive.

MacDonald’s body was to be found in a lonely, shallow grave: Buried without the usual rites.

“I was saddened to learn that,” the father reminisced.

By the time the body was discovered on April 1 2018, some 23 days had elapsed.

The truth was not to be suppressed forever, though.

Those behind the heinous crime were identified and apprehended.

On Monday, humiliated and resigned to fate, the 12 people that played various roles in sending Masambuka to his early grave could only watch helplessly as Justice Dorothy Nyakaunda Kamanga meted out sentences that are in tandem with one’s contribution to the disappearance, dismembering and eventual murder of MacDonald.

What sin did MacDonald Commit? Being housed in a piece of flesh that had no melanin, such that he had the condition of albinism.

Nyakaunda Kamanga, who has just been promoted to the Supreme Court of Appeal, did not hide her fury— which is what any caring mother would do.

“The court is inclined to agree with the prosecution that the aggravating factors outweigh mitigating factors. As a person with albinism, he was vulnerable and was brutally and mercilessly killed for his [body] parts. The convicts met several times and planned to kill him.

“They capitalised on his psychological need of love, cheated him that they had found a woman for him to marry; they showed him a picture of an unknown woman and arranged that he meets the woman. This ended up being his death trap. Cassim White Masambuka betrayed the trust of his brother and acted like a Judas Iscariot he is,” she said.

Kamanga handed life sentences to Maxwell Matchina Sosola, Dickson Ndengu, Bashir Lilongwe, Alfred Yohane and Masambuka’s brother Cassim White Masambuka after convicting them of Macdonald’s murder.

Clinician Lumbani Kamanga, Ma ster Mphulanya Injesi , Lackiness Magombo and Cassim Masambuka were sentenced to 60 years imprisonment for causing another person to harm a person with a disability while the clinician and Master Mphulanya Injesi were each handed another 60-year jail term for a different count of causing a person to harm a person with albinism.

Catholic priest Thomas Muhosha, police officer Chikondi Chileka, Alfred Yohane, Mussa Lilongwe and Innocent Walasi were condemned to 30 years imprisonment for transacting in human tissue, just like Matchina Sosola, Dickson Ndengu, Bashir Lilongwe and Alfred Yohane, in this case for extracting human tissue.

Yohane, Chikondi Chileka, Mussa Lilongwe and Innocent Walasi were also sentenced to 30 years imprisonment for being found in possession of human tissue.

Lastly, Yohane, Ndengu, Sosola, Bashir Lilongwe and Master Mphulanya Injesi were sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for trafficking in persons while Cassim Masambuka was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for the same offence.

While saying the convicts should be subjected to hard labour, Nyakaunda Kamanga said, for those who were convicted and sentenced on multiple counts, their sentences will run concurrently.

Masambuka’s father, White Masambuka, was satisfied but not very satisfied.

“That one [pointing at Cassim, who was within 10 metres of the father] is not my son. What he did was horrible. All of them, I wish all of them were killed the way they killed my son,” he said.

State lawyer Pirirani Masanjala welcomed the sentences, saying justice has been served.

“You have heard the sentences which have been handed out to the convicts. We have five life sentences, 60-year jail terms and 30-year jail terms, among others. That shows that justice has been served,” he said.

Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace National Coordinator, Boniface Chibwana, shares the sentiments.

“Even though the family of Masambuka cannot claim their relative’s life back, they should be happy that matching sentences have been meted out for offences,” he said.

While Chibwana believes that MacDonald’s family members can have some sense of closure, the Malawi Council for the Handicapped (Macoha) says people with albinism will continue to feel unsafe if many cases remain uncompleted in the country’s courts.

Macoha Board Vice Chairperson, Alex Machila, was reacting to the sentences handed to 12 people convicted of various offences in the murder of Macdonald.

While acknowledging that the Masambuka case was prominent, Machila challenged the Malawi Police Service, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Judiciary not to relax and forget other existing cases.

“The Masambuka case failed to unearth the market of body parts of people with albinism but, maybe, the market will be busted if the State diligently pursues the remaining cases.

“There are many cases which are hanging despite that names of other people were mentioned as the Masambuka case was in progress. All names and cases have to be investigated and brought to their logical conclusion,” he said.

In May this year, the High Court sitting in Mangochi District sentenced three men to a total of 155 years imprisonment with hard labour (IHL) for killing Saidi Dayton, a 23-year-old man with albinism from Kadewere Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chowe, in the district.

The convicts are James Khang’a, Sumaili Nikisi and Gayesi Katupe, all from Kadewere Village, T/A Chowe, in the lakeshore district.

High Court Judge Mzondi Mvula convicted them on Monday, May 9 2022, on all the three counts of murder, extracting human tissues and trafficking in person.

The first two charges, Mvula indicated, attracts the maximum sentence of the death penalty and life imprisonment with hard labour.

The third count, on the other hand, attracts a maximum sentence of 14 years IHL if the intention was not to harm the trafficked person.

But i f the intent ion of trafficking was to do harm to someone, the maximum sentence becomes life imprisonment with hard labour.

Mvula said, despite that the State submitted that the three be given the maximum sentence of death, he believed that the death sentence should not be imposed on any person because it has serious negative effects on the life of the convict in an event that there was an error in law during trial.

However, Mvula said the manner in which the three and their accomplices— who are yet to stand trial— committed the crime is inhuman such that they deserve strong punishment to remind them about the ramifications of their actions.

“I enjoy listening to Lucius Banda’s songs and one of my favourite songs is titled ‘Zasiyana Pati’. This song says that if the government imposes the death sentence on people, how can it, then, claim to be different from the murderers? To me, life imprisonment should be our last resort,” Mvula said.

He, therefore, sentenced all of them to 68 years and six months IHL for murder, 48 years and six months IHL for extracting human tissues and 38 years and six months IHL for human trafficking.

The case took 17 months, after the convicts were arrested in January last year.

“I could have considered a lesser punishment because killing someone, cutting their body parts and keeping them in a bag as if they were an animal is disheartening. We need to create an environment where all Malawians, including people with albinism, will be able to live in peace,” he said.

According to DPP Steven Kayuni, the State is ready for trial in the cases involving the three remaining individuals.

“We will parade six witnesses in the trial of the remaining three people who were arrested after we had already started trial of their accomplices,” Kayuni said.

When Malawi commemorated International Albinism Awareness Day, which falls on June 13, Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara called for increased awareness on the rights of people with albinism.

“We, as a nation, aim to increase awareness and understanding of albinism issues and, also, to harness gains realised overtime from various jurisdictions on matters affecting people with albinism.

“Our roles demand that we, as legislators, must discharge our duties in such a way that our brothers, sisters, friends and relatives with albinism enjoy the rights and freedom enshrined in our Constitution just like any other ordinary Malawian,” she said.

Association of Persons with Albinism Board Chairperson, Habiba Osman, said there was a need to allocate more resources to issues relating to people with albinism.

She bemoaned reduced allocations to such causes.

“The government has [for example] reduced the budgetary allocation [to such activities] from K1.6 billion to K200 million in the 2022-23 budget, which will bring challenges in supporting specific functions associated with people with albinism,” she lamented.

If the budgetary allocation to such causes is anything to go by, there are more miles to cover to make Malawi a haven for people with albinism.

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