Prevailing killings of people with albinism on Wednesday pushed High Court Judge Dingiswayo Madise to shatter a myth in law which reserves maximum sentences for the worst offender who is yet to be born.
The sole Mzuzu-based High Court judge sounded convinced that the worst convict of attempted murder is already born when he slapped Samson Kaumba, 33, with a life sentence “with no possibility for pardon” for a foiled murder in Karonga of Morton Juma, an 11-year-old boy with albinism.
The boy dropped out of school having escaped the scene with deep cuts across his neck and left biceps.
The maximum sentence for attempted murder becomes the stiffest punishment imposed on convicts of discriminatory attacks and ritual killings which threaten to wipe out people with albinism from the face of Malawi.
Chief State advocate Dzikondianthu Malunda described the judgement as a victory in the struggle to protect the endangered minority.
But defence lawyer Chimwemwe Chithope termed the verdict “a mockery to justice and reason”, saying judges may have no logical verdicts to offer when victims escape murder with both arms amputated.
Emotions were high as the lawyers made their submissions and onlookers held their breath as the judge recounted how Kaumba and his two accomplices— who remain unnamed—tried to kill the little Morton “as if they were slaughtering a chicken or a goat” in Ipiyana Forest on September 2 2015.
Said the judge: “I am of the view that the worst offender has arrived. When a person dies, the body is buried in the soil. When criminals kill a person with albinism, they harvest body parts for sale or rituals. I am left with no doubt that the convict attempted to kill the boy for gain.”
The ruling represents triumph as almost 83 people with albinism have suffered various attacks, including killings, exhumation and dismemberment, as they are being hunted like animals for their body parts—a trend which puts citizens without skin pigment at the risk of “systemic extinction”, according to UN special envoy Ikponwosa Ero.
“Attempted murder and murder itself are the same and the victim’s life is not spared by the mercy of the killers, but sheer luck and divine intervention,” said a lawyer.
The boy’s mother, Maria Juma, who was selling fish at Karonga Central Market when Madise was reading the landmark sentence at the Mzuzu Court House, was happy with the sentence.
The woman, who supports death penalty, backed Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (Apam) president Boniface Massa’s calls for stiffer penalties to eradicate the heinous killings.
Massa said: “Stiffer penalties are just one of the steps we have been fighting for. We hope this will send a strong message to the killers, but the State needs to do more to protect us and to speed up at least 18 cases that are still hanging in court.”
But Juma’s joy was measured.
“Thank God! At last, justice has been done to people who wanted to kill my son. But some will continue hunting people with albinism as animals because life sentence guarantees free food for the rest of their lives,” said the mother in a telephone interview shortly after the verdict.
She reckoned the boy has dropped out of school and seldom goes out to play with his friends as he is yet to recover from the mental and physical torture of September 2.
The prosecutor made an emotional appeal for justice, telling the judge: “The boy’s life will never be the same. The boy cannot go to school. He cannot go to church. He cannot go to play. His family cannot leave him alone.”
The judge said he was shocked with the gruesome attack which was foiled by a well-wisher, Paul, who was passing by when Kaumba reportedly coaxed the victim into the bush on the pretext that they were going to get a chicken.
Kaumba has been on trial together with Fishani Mtambo, who was acquitted as the judge felt he had not been adequately identified by the victim and a neighbour.
However, Morton got double triumph as tales of his fear to go to school have compelled the elite Mzuzu International Academy to offer him a scholarship.
The intervention, which the judge announced as school principal Peter Yates looked on, plucks the Standard Five pupil from the country’s congested free primary school classrooms at Ipiyana Primary School to the prestigious boarding setting at the academy where just 82 learners who pay $400 a term—an equivalent of K268 000—are studying the University of Cambridge international curriculum.
The mother expressed gratitude to the academy for giving the boy a new lifeline to a better future, saying his class attendance has been on-off as “he doesn’t go to school for weeks. If I had money I would have sent him to a decent boarding school”.
The offer also ends months of vain waiting after government, through Karonga District Social Welfare office, pledged in November to send the boy to Hope Orphanage in Mchinji where US pop star Madonna adopted David Banda in 2006. n