Over 80 villagers from Traditional Authority Bibi Kuluunda in Salima who escaped an arson attack last month are still living a homeless life, and have complained of suffering further victimisation because government has turned a blind eye on them despite losing all their belongings in the attack including their food reserves.
Acting T/A Kuluunda Fanny Kuzobwe who was also chased down and had her house burnt by the angry villagers, told Nyasa Times that the mob burnt 22 houses, including their food reserves and also killed various livestocks.
She further said that among the numbers of the affected are 45 children, 31 women and 20 men who have all sought refuge at suspended T/A Kuluunda’s residence whose house was spared because police came faster to her rescue and also because that the T/A residence is far from Kachulu and Kantchentche, the two areas most affected by the attacks.
When Nyasa Times toured the area on Sunday, reporters found the victims camped at Bibi Kuluundas house and are currently surviving on the savings of the old chief.
Nyasa Times reporters were also led into dilapidated houses which have been turned into shelter rooms for the victims, who have no option but to endure vampire mosquitoes and chilly breeze because all their beddings were consumed by the inferno, possing a threat of Malaria and wind-borne diseases to small children and women who are among the victims.
We found that the fracas was born from the discontentment of some villagers who accuse Bibi Kuluunda of acquiring large portions of what they claimed to be “land deals”.
The villagers are said to have been raising allegations that the chief shared huge proceeds of the deals to herself, close relatives and sympathizers.
The mob in May forced President Peter Mutharika to suspend chief T/A Bibi Kuluunda.
In a letter dated April 27 2016, Mutharika wrote: “I, Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi, pursuant to powers vested in me by Chapter 22: 03 part 2, Section 2 of the Chiefs Act do hereby suspend you, Khadija Habib Saidi from exercising the functions of Senior Chief Bibi Kuluunda of Salima with immediate effect until after the conclusion of the investigations into the alleged misconduct on your part.”
The Kuluunda familly lineage elected Fanny Kuzobwe as acting T/A Bibi Kuluunda upon instructions from government that familly members should elect an interim chief.
Kuzobwe said that the whole fracas erupted after government announced suspension of T/A Bibi Kuluunda. She said that the mob started grabbing land that belonged to the suspended chief and her relatives, and Kuzobwe sought a court injunction on the matter.
“After government instructed family members of the chieftaincy lineage to appoint an interim chief, people still continued to grab our properties and land. I sought court order restraining the people and the court ordered them to stop. But, those people did not even obey the court order these led the court to issue out warrant of arrest” she said
She added: “But after police started arresting those people who defied the court order it’s when the attacks started. They targeted everyone whom they knew is a relative to the chief, beat them up, burnt their houses and killed their livestocks.
“Main culprits who attacked us are still in the villages, police only arrested those that were grabbing our land. They only said that they would come to arrest those who burnt our houses but up to now nothing has been done. As such we are living in fear and we failing to live our normal life.”
Salima Police Officer in-charge Josiah Kanthiti admitted that police is yet to make fresh arrests since the incident happened in July.
“Police is still investigating the matter, and more arrests will be made relating to that incident” he said.
On the fateful day, 48 year old woman with disability, Asiya Lufani who uses a wheelchair for her mobility, was forced to run on her knees crawling away from the frightful zone. The mob set ablaze her house, including her two wheel chairs,a move gender activists have described as criminal and disturbing.
She said that all she want is to have her normal life back.
“I would like to see justice on this issue, I want these attackers to tell me before court what crime have I committed against them for me to suffer this injustice. Government should come in to assist us because we cannot return to our villages because most of the people who attacked us are still wandering there,”she said.
Salima District Commissioner Rodney Simwaka played down claims that government has turned a blind eye on the arson victims.
Without giving clear details, Simwaka said that Redcross moved in to help by distributing some relief items, but maize missed out on those items.
“That’s not true, that the victims have been neglected. Our office went there to assess the situation and last Saturday Redcross went there to distribute some items for shelter. But the main item that was missing was maize, because it would be distributed on Monday,” he said.
When Nyasa Times inquired from the acting chief Bibi Kuluunda, Funny Kuzobwe on Wednesday she confirmed that the victims were yet to receive any food assistance and some are sleeping on empty stomach.
“They only brought us kitchen utensils, thin blankets like,and shelter kits for electing tents,” she said.