There was mayhem in Lilongwe in the wee hours of Sunday as angry villagers from Area 44 torched part of Kumbali Lodge.
The angry villagers set ablaze seven vehicles and completely burnt down about four buildings.
Heavily damaged in the fracas was the 50-bed Kumbali Base Camp and the Kumbali Kindergarten which also serves the same communities.
The villagers were reacting to the arrest of fellow community members who were nabbed for encroaching on the lodge’s area.
According to Patrick Chauma, an Office Assistant at the lodge, the security personnel at the facility were shocked to see scores of villagers descending on the premises and starting to burn buildings.
Chauma said the villagers also stole property belonging to organisations that are renting office space at the facility.
“It all started after security officials from Kumbali apprehended bout nine villagers for encroaching on the land. The apprehended villagers were taken to police. The villagers thought the people were here.
“So at around two o’clock in the morning, scores of villagers came to the facility and started demanding the unconditional release of their colleagues. In the process, they set ablaze cars and buildings,” Chauma said.
Esther Thwalo, an official working for Reservation Research Africa, a company that was renting office space at Kumbali Lodge, said she was woken up by security officials who tipped her about the fracas and advised her to seek safety somewhere else.
“I had to run for dear life. It was very scary,” said Thwalo, who is expectant.
Kumbali Lodge Director, Guy Pickering, said he was shocked by the conduct of the communities around the lodge.
According to Pickering, his firm, Nature’s Gift Limited, bought the land which was formerly owned by Malawi Dairy Industries in 1998.
He said since then, there has been a cordial relationship between Nature’s Gift Limited and the communities until June this year when they started encroaching on the land.
Pickering said when this started, he reported the matter to authorities, including the police and the Ministry of Lands, but nothing happened.
He said he even went to court to obtain an order to stop the encroachers from invading his territory and developing structures there.
According to a default judgment delivered by High Court judge Kenyatta Nyirenda that we have seen against Maxwell Nankhwangwa, Brian Phiri, John Sande, Leveni Tchale and others, Plots Alimaunde 44/9 and 11 in Area 44 in Lilongwe belong to Nature’s Gift Limited.
The court also ordered that the defendants by themselves or their agents, relatives or whosoever, are prohibited from transacting, trespassing and encroaching on the piece of land.
The court further ordered the defendants in the case to pay Nature’s Gift damages for loss of use of the said land as well as legal fees of the case.
Pickering said the incident has the capacity to dent Malawi’s tourism image considering that Kumbali Lodge is a big name in the tourism business.
“We have over 200 travel agents on our database and Madonna Lodges at Kumbali when she is coming to Malawi. It is going to have a huge impact on tourism in Malawi. It’s very sad. After the impact that Covid-19 has had on the tourism industry, Malawi needed no other dent on the sector,” Pickering said.
Pickering said it was premature to estimate the cost of the damage which he said is in hundreds of millions of Kwacha.
National Police Spokesperson, James Kadadzera, said police has so far arrested some people in connection with the incident.
Kadadzera added that more people are expected to be arrested as the law enforces continue with their investigations.
Kadadzera has said police are warning communities against taking the law in their hands, saying the rule of law must be followed.