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Warm-hearted by talk, cruel by deeds

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Kavala (left) and Ndanga

Over seven years after the events of January 25 2015, when four senior citizens of Neno District were killed by people who suspected them of practising witchcraft, Malawians in some parts of the country are still shedding innocent blood of the elderly on flimsy grounds.

And statistics do not lie.

A total of 15 elderly people have been killed since January this year on suspicion of practising witchcraft, according to the Malawi Network of Older Persons’ Organisations (Manepo).

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However, the Malawi Police Service (MPS) believes this could just be a tip of the iceberg.

This week, in Lilongwe — when Manepo signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa)-Malawi that will facilitate increased coverage of issues pertaining to the elderly in Malawi— the network’s country director Andrew Kavala lamented that order persons are living dangerously in the country.

He blamed the situation on increased cases of mob justice.

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“We have always reminded Malawians that if someone is aggrieved, the best way is to seek redress from either the Malawi Police Service or the Judiciary.

“No one should, at any cost and any point in time, act to be the prosecutor, judge and accuser because [by doing that] you are aborting justice in the process. Mob justice should be condemned by everyone in Malawi,” he said.

He is as worried as MPS spokesperson Peter Kalaya who, while acknowledging that the situation is worrisome, believes that the number of victims could be higher than that.

However, this is not supposed to be the case, considering that, when four elderly people were killed in the Southern Region district of Neno, the nation was dismayed and condemned those that were suspected to have laid their hands on the four hapless elderly people.

More so because the elderly people were particularly vulnerable. Robustly hospitable, they must have looked forward to, one day, dying peacefully in their sleep. Their wrinkles, visible to both the old and new, were inscriptions of their practical journey in life.

Indeed, the wrinkles were not just bodily features; they were ‘marks’ of the many times they had been sun-baked in September and October or endured cold weather in June and July.

Until that fateful Monday in early 2015.

The four were brutally killed on suspicion that they killed a 17-year-old granddaughter, Flora Kanjete, who was struck to death by lightning, through witchcraft.

Like a hunted animal run to the ground, 86-year-old Eliza Kanjete was the first to be cornered— according to one of the Neno police officers who rushed to the scene.

Branded a ‘witch’ on account of her striking old age, she was not the only one earmarked to die.

One by one, 76-year-old Elenafa Kanjete, 73-year-old Byson Kanjete and 69-year-old Idesi Kanjete (not necessarily in that order, but all from the same family— were chased around their houses by a bloodthirsty mob in a remote corner of Neno.

Too old to run, their energy run out quicker than their will to survive and, shortly thereafter, their legs followed suit by failing them.

Terrified, they slumped in the dust, whimpered and pleaded for mercy, before being overrun by the anger, and physical force of Group Village Head Chimbalanga’s subjects in Traditional Authority Dambe, Neno.

“The four died due to severe beatings, according to post-mortem results.

Granted, death strikes; it is an act of nature.

However, when death is forced— like in the Neno case— nobody understands it; not even Group Village Headman Chimbalanga of Neno, who said back in 2015.

“I, as leader, am really shocked with the death of these people because it has never happened in the history of this village. Not even once have we had a man killed in this village,” The Daily Times quotes Chimbalanga as saying during the funeral ceremony.

Not just him. The Malawi Law Society (MLS), whose members are known to save a life from the gallows by the simple act of moving their lips this or that way in court, was shocked at the time and released a statement.

Neno Four

So shocked was MLS with the Neno events that it, within days, described the Kanjetes as the “Neno Four”.

“The senseless and heinous murders of the Neno Four is a despicable outrage that the [Malawi Law] Society condemns without any reservation whatsoever. Such kind of barbaric acts stain our collective conscience and have got absolutely no place in a civilised society.

“They should accordingly be fervently opposed and denounced by all right-thinking Malawians. It is even more saddening to note that it would appear that the Neno Four were principally targeted because of their old age. It reflects extremely poorly on those who were involved in these murders that, instead of protecting these vulnerable people, they turned on them and murdered them,” MLS, in a scathing statement, said.

However, as the nation grappled with shock, MLS also found some time to pick out threads of sanity in the confusion. It appealed to reason, as opposed to emotions.

“The Society would like to remind all Malawians that our country is a nation of laws. It is the duty of each and every citizen to observe and uphold these laws. We implore our fellow citizens to report all instances of suspected law breaking to the Malawi Police Service and other government law enforcement agencies for appropriate action to be taken. No severity of our indignation at the sight of illegal behaviour will ever justify the taking of the law into our own hands,” it added.

No real change

Fast-forward to October 13 2022. Nothing, in terms of promoting the living standards of the elderly, has changed.

It is as if lip service has won over action.

Human rights watchdog Help Age, which publishes Global Age Watch Index, indicates that Malawi is one of the 10 worst places to grow old in the world.

Help Age International’s Global Age Watch Index measures the social and economic welfare of those aged over 60 years in 96 nations.

The study focuses on income security, health and whether someone has access to public transport, social connections as well as their physical safety.

Switzerland tops the list while Afghanistan comes last.

Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Rwanda and Uganda have, for years, been among the bottom 20 countries.

And, with reports that 15 more elderly people have been killed in 2022, Malawi must be hundreds of years away from the safe haven elderly people want.

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