A gunshot thunders in the air and armed police scatter.
“Ameneyo! Uyo! Uyo!” screams can be heard as the excited law enforcers race to smoke out Chancellor College (Chanco) students from nearby hostels.
Just then, an episode comes into view which confirms that not all police officers are buying into the prevailing reforms. It may be 22 years since the restoration of democracy, but some of them appear stuck in the dictatorial days when it was no crime for the men in uniform to take the law in their hands.
The only new thing is that one of them has the temerity and ease of technology to film the follies of the unreformed recruits.
Such are the ugly scenes viewers encounter in 95 seconds of brutal policing that nobody is certain why it has been immortalised in a video that has gone viral on the social media.
Hearing the police fire eight teargas canister in less than two minutes sounds shocking even to the most violent officer caught on camera and the seventh gunshot ostensibly compels him to complain: “Nayeso aziponya bwino, angatiponyere kuno [Don’t fire aimlessly, the teargas may affect us .”
However, what has shocked the nation is that the armed officer seems to live in a lawless world as he beats the schoolgirls not once or twice, but three times.
“Please, allow us to go and lock our rooms first,” pleads a girl dressed in a white top and black pair of trousers.
However, the police officer is clearly not in a talking mood as he beats her in the face.
“It’s none of my business,” he says, explaining: “Don’t worry. There are guards on duty.”
As the girl in trousers comes to grips with the beating, her fearful colleague, clad in a pink dress and black cardigan, perilously retreats to the edge of a gully. The mean security agent pulls her just before she backslides into the pit.
“I have saved you,” the unkind one brags.
However, the world will never know why he seems kind to the girl in pink this once, but what follows are more beatings. In fact, she suffers two slaps as he pushes her to the ground.
Sadly, the girls are not allowed to cry after suffering the infamous blows and humiliating treatment at the hands of a public officer who is supposed to safeguard them.
Now, it has emerged that the video the cruel officer wanted deleted at all cost only offers a fraction of the rough treatment the students suffered at the hands of police on Tuesday.
“We were treated like criminals,” says Mayankho Kapito, the girl in trousers, whose father—vocal activist John Kapito—has threatened to sue the police.
The 24-year-old, who is said to be reeling with a traumatic aftershock from the other side of what was expected to be a reformed police service, says they experienced more than is documented in the video.
The fourth-year Bachelor of Arts (Humanities) learner personifies the excesses almost 14 students captured by the police had to endure before they were bundled into a police vehicle where they had to do with unrelenting verbal and physical abuse.
“We were like animals. They used teargas to force us out of our rooms. In no time, three uniformed officers charged at me, stepped on my foot and slapped me in the face,” she explains.
With teargas blaring in the background, the police are heard shouting: “Uyo! Uyo! Uyo! Ameneyo! Iwe ima!”
It looks like the gun-brandishing workforce is chasing hardcore criminals.
But these were just students.
One police officer is seen charging at Mayankho, who is struggling with tears resulting from contact with teargas seeping in the air.
He yells at her before ruthlessly slapping her.
He is heard shouting: “Why are you crying? We hate crying. Just sit down!”
Mayankho says the content of the clip was just a prologue of the beatings they went through on the road to Zomba Police.
“In the police vehicle, they kept on harassing us verbally and physically. They were hitting us all over with butts of their rifles. A colleague of ours was left bleeding on the knee,” she claims.
They spent a day at the police station, she says.
“I have gone through a lot since that fateful day. Physically, I had pain on my legs, knees and tummy. But I am getting better,” she says.
She echoed her famous father’s concerns: “Psychologically, I am mad and traumatised. I want justice to prevail because no one wants to be beaten up for something they didn’t do. It is unlawful to beat up a person during an arrest.”
The second girl, who was seen being vilified before she is slapped two times by the ‘thug in police uniform’, pleaded not to be identified because she is still disturbed by the whole ordeal and needs time to deal with the sour aftertaste of the ugly scene.
She was at pains to explain what she went through.
“My day in a cell was terrible. I am stressed up with all the beatings that have left me with bruises on the thigh, the right eye and the lips. Can we do an interview another time? Right now I am shivering at the thought of all this,” she said.
Since the video went viral, several human rights campaigners have joined John Kapito’s call for the police officers to be tried for assaulting students with unprecedented impunity.
Some of the institutions include the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) and the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) who want police authorities to immediately discipline officers caught on camera.
In a strongly worded statement, Women in Law in Southern Africa terms “the unorthodox behaviours of the police towards the two female students” an abdication from their core duty to guard the citizens.
Its statement reads: “It is the duty of the police officers to protect, not to intimidate, threaten and physically assault anyone.
The association rates the seemingly unprovoked attacks on the two defenceless students “atrocious” and “extremely disappointing” as Malawians expect the police officers to buy into the prevailing fight against gender-based violence.
Kapito, a parent to one of the victims, vowed to sue the MPS for their excessive use of force on the students, saying it is high time police officers paid a price for their tendency to use brutal force, even on people acting within their rights, like demonstrating peacefully.
Reports from Zomba indicate authorities have summoned the entire squad, which was deployed at Chanco on the shameful day, to account for their extra role in the video which has left the reputation of the police service in tatters.
However, the activists want Inspector General Lexten Kachama to act swiftly to salvage the good name that upright police officers are trying to protect.
“We pray that the officers perpetrating the violence will be disciplined accordingly and the victims receive the justice they deserve,” Wilsa implores.
To them, justice delayed is justice denied.
Despite the motion picture in the public domain, the wheels of justice seem to be turning so slow-with national police spokesperson being non-committal when asked what has happened so far.
Gondwa, who claimed he had not seen the disgraceful video on Friday, asked for more time to consult.
Certainly, Malawi is no identical twin of Kenya where authorities wasted no time deporting Koffi Olomide, one of the continent’s biggest music stars, after he was filmed apparently kicking a woman at Nairobi International Airport.
Olomide, 60, denies the assault charges, but this did not stop gender-aware authorities from cancelling his concert in the Kenya capital and putting him on the first flight back to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In that country, Gender Minister Sicily Kariuki quickly flashed the laws of Kenya, saying the musician should be banished and his visa permanently revoked because “his conduct was an insult to Kenyans and our constitution”.
Surprisingly, the silence from the Office of the President and Cabinet in Lilongwe has been deafening since the incident in Zomba.
This may not be peculiar as police officers found on the wrong side of the law are often punished by transfers to rural areas, transplanting the problem.
Kapito reckons the security agency will continue being scandalised unless authorities learn to clamp down on errant officers decisively.
“I think our police are always over-zealous; we know that they always want to show that they have more power than the citizen,” Kapito told our sister paper, Weekend Nation.
The Malawi Police Service’s code of conduct requires the officers “to respond with restraint” when it comes to “physical attacks on their persons”.