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When access to justice becomes costly

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Florence Banda from Kalembajasi Village, Senior Group Village Head (GVH) Kachenje, in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kawamba in Kasungu, has a farmland dispute with her neighbour. She is accusing the neighbour of abandoning the original boundary demarcating the two f arml ands and encroaching into her piece of land.

The aggrieved Banda decides to take the matter to GVH Kachenje for redress. But she is told, she cannot have her case heard at GVH Kachenje before contributing a chicken and maize flour, to be used to prepare food the elders who would hear her farmland dispute.

Since she does not have the items demanded by GVH Kachenje for her complaint to be heard before the traditional court, Banda decides to take the matter further to T/A Kawamba’s court.

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But alas, she faces a similar tune, stiffer than what GVH Kachenje had earlier demanded from her.

Banda is asked to bring a crate of soft drinks for the elders who are to discuss the matter. On top of that, she is asked to provide money for fuel to enable the District Commissioner (DC) to drive from town, about 100 kilometers away to come and sit with the elders in the village to help address her problem.

“For us to solve these land disputes, you have to provide money for fuel for the DC to come here, as chief executive of this district, I am told. Yet I am a common villager, all I really have for my living is the farmland under dispute.

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“As poor as I am, do you think I can provide all these items the traditional leaders are demanding before my case is heard? After all in this case, I am the one who is aggrieved,” she complained.

Banda is but one of the many subjects in T/A Kawamba that are failing to seek justice before traditional courts whenever they have been aggrieved because they are living in abject poverty.

They cannot meet what the traditional courts demand for an aggrieved party to be heard.

Issues of poor people like Banda failing to seek justice before traditional courts were exposed following advocacy campaigns Malawi Interfaith Aids Association (MIAA), with assistance from Oxfam, conducted early this month (December) at community

 

level in the five GVHs in T/A Kawamba, thus Senior Group Village Head Selenje, Kachenje, Kawambamwale, Chidelezi and Diwala.

The main aim of the campaign was to find various common issues that hinder People Living With HIV (PLHIV), especially women from accessing quality healthcare and agri-based services.

Dur ing the advoc a cy campaigns in T/A Kawamba, some people complained of empty promises made by some nongovernmental organisations who ask the community to gather sand and rocks to be used for the construction of boreholes but do not fulfill their promises, whereas on paper it shows availability of boreholes in such particular community.

The advocacy campaigns also revealed, among other things, irregular availability of bacrim (the drug that is provided alongside ARVs) in the health facilities, lack of potable water, discrimination against people living with HIV by household members and other relatives, indigenous people castigating people who settle in their areas and gender-based violence.

Considering all these challenges, Miaa in conjunction with Oxfam, conducted a district interface last week, bringing together duty-bearers and service providers that included the District Commissioner’s office, District Health Officer, T/A Kawamba, Senior Group Village Heads Selenje, Kachenje, Kawambamwale, Chidelezi and Diwala, District Agriculture Development Officer, the police, and Member of Parliament for T/A Kawamba and rights holders so that the identified challenges could be resolved thoroughly on mutual understanding.

Taking her turn, T/A Kawamba, while admitting that it was true that such practices of asking the aggrieved to provide food for elders if they wanted their issues to be heard before the traditional court were true, said from now on, she would make sure that no chief under her authority would repeat such practice.

“They (traditional leaders) have heard for themselves that such practice of asking the complainant to bring before the court food before an issue is tackled, is uncalled for. On top of that I am going to call for a separate meeting with the Group Village Headmen and emphasise on this,” said T/A Kawamba.

Lucius Njovu, Kasungu District Aids Coordinator who was standing in for the DC, said it was not true that his office places such demands like provision of fuel on the complainant for the DC to preside over issues, particulary to do with land dispute.

Njovu expected sanity to prevail following ironing of all grey areas following the interface meeting.

But Member of Parliament for Kasungu West, Alex Major, said it was a tradition that every subject with a complaint before a traditional court, has to pay something before the matter is looked into.

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