As the world ushered in the New Year, Yasin Kwenda Phiri, a 60-year-old man with albinism, was mercilessly murdered in his house in Nkhata Bay under the watch of his nine-year-old son George.
Armed with pangas, the assailants broke into Phiri’s bedroom through a window, stabbed him in the stomach and removed his intestines.
The victim’s cry for the two assailants’ mercy may have awakened his son, who was sleeping in a separate room, but it did not make the killers relent.
By then, little George had rushed to his father’s room, only to find him being brutally dismembered.
The assailants only left the scene, at Kande Trading Centre in Nkhata Bay South, when the victim breathed his last.
Son narrates ordeal
A traumatised George, speaking in the company of his aunt, Grace Kamanga, recalls calling out to his father at around 10pm on December 31 2018, to escort him to the toilet outside their house.
Instead, he heard the sound of intruders in his father’s bedroom.
Said George: “I called out again, but all I heard was someone groaning. So I decided to go to my father’s room where I found two men with sharp knives. When I got to the room, one person grabbed me as the other stabbed my father in the stomach four times.”
The young boy says he asked the two men why they were killing his father, especially after seeing them removing intestines from his father’s stomach with their bare hands.
“But when I started asking them questions, the one who grabbed me beat me up heavily on the chest and threw me to the ground. They told me to shut up or they would cut me into pieces. I was scared.” recalls George.
“I then saw the other man cutting both my father’s arms. I could not understand what was happening, I could not even shout for help. I was terribly afraid.”
The two assailants, says George, then forced him to open the front door, carrying with them his father’s body and the two arms they had chopped off.
“Terrified, I opened the door and they took me to the back of the house where they also beat me up, telling me not to shout if I wanted to live. They dumped my father in a drain behind our house. Then they ran away, that’s when I started calling for help,” he says.
George still does not understand why his father, a hospital attendant at Kande Health Centre where he worked for 18 years, had to go through all that torture.
Phiri had four other children apart from George, but they were not in the house on the fateful night.
“My father always gave me everything I needed. He was always there for me. I don’t know who will provide me anymore! What I saw was brutal, he was killed like an animal not a human being,” says George, as he begins to sob.
Yasin Phiri’s sister, Grace Kamanga who worked together with him at Kande Health Centre, cannot imagine the pain that his brother went through, more so, the trauma that George will live with for the rest of his life.
She says: “My brother and his wife separated a few years ago, but he took on a motherly role and looked after all their children. He has been providing for them, he has been sharing with them the little that he would fetch as a father.”
Kamanga says all the family wants now is justice and an explanation on why they subjected Phiri to such a torturous death.
She says: “He was a peaceful man, he never picked quarrels with people. Is it a crime to be born with albinism? Who will take care of these children?”
Kamanga wants the police to do their job and bring the culprits to book.
“We want justice, we want the truth, we want to know who killed our brother. We will not sleep, we will not get tired, until we know the truth!” she said.
The community, too, is furious.
Village head Jalika lamented that his people are now living in fear.
“We have a security lapse! The police post at the roadblock is not well stocked. We have many murder cases here. Even at Chintheche, there are few officers, we are living not knowing what will happen to us tomorrow.”
Nkhata Bay South legislator Emily Chinthu Phiri concurs with Jalika, saying there is urgent need to address the security situation in her area.
She says: “What is heartbreaking is that there has been no logical conclusion to the many killings that have happened in the country . Government needs to take a strong stand on these issues. We have a law, but is it being implemented? We have had many killings, but what has been the action?”
Chinthu-Phiri says the community will intensify community policing.
“The only police station that we rely on is Chintheche, which is in Nkhata Bay South East, but they don’t have a vehicle either,” she says.
As Phiri’s body was being taken to Kazando, about seven kilometres away from Kande, hundreds of mourners saw him off, baying for the blood of anyone who had a hand in the death.
Northern Region police spokesperson Peter Kalaya says the law enforcement agency has intensified investigations into Phiri’s brutal murder.
“A postmortem conducted at Chintheche Rural Hospital established that the victim died of severe loss of blood. Meanwhile, we have instituted intensive investigations to arrest the criminals,” he said.
Nkhata Bay hospital spokesperson Christopher Singini says the postmortem revealed that the deceased sustained 10 stab wounds, but the private parts were intact, disputing community claims that they had been cut off.
He also confirmed that the intestines had been cut off, but were put back at the hospital.
Phiri, of Kazando Village, Traditional Authority Fukamapiri, is survived by a wife and five children.
Govt sleeping on job?
The Malawi Human Rights Commission quickly issued a statement yesterday condemning Phiri’s murder.
It reads in part: “The commission is even more concerned that the killing took place at a time the family was supposed to be celebrating the ushering in of the New Year 2019.
“This is another shocking reminder of the lapses by responsible authorities to eradicate the targeted attacks on persons living with albinism.”
Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (Apam) president Overstone Kondowe, in an interview yesterday agreed that what happened to Phiri is a sign of leadership failure in the country.
“We have been telling the President what needs to be done to deal with these issues, but the response has been lukewarm. We have seen how our neighbouring countries have dealt with these issues, but we seem not to have learnt any lessons.
“Imagine from 2014, we have had 160 cases, but only 43 have been dealt with. What message are we sending out there? We need to seriously implement the laws, we need people to know that a person with albinism is like any other,” he lamented.
Government has an obligation, under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among others, to protect, promote and fulfil the right to life, dignity, personal security and safety for all people in Malawi, including vulnerable groups such as people with albinism, and ensure equal protection before the law.
The Constitution of Malawi also places obligations on the government to protect the rights of all people, including persons with albinism.
In a joint statement, Apam, Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Centre for Development of People (Cedep) and Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), the organisations have challenged government to deal with the issue.
“As we mourn Yasin Phiri, we encourage authorities to ensure a thorough, prompt and impartial investigation not only into his killing, but also the killing of other persons with albinism, including MacDonald Masambuka, Joseph Kachingwe, Harry Mokoshoni and others, and bring all alleged perpetrators to justice,” they urge.
Recently, Minister of Information and Communications Technology Henry Mussa said government is committed to handling court cases related to the abduction and killing of persons with albinism as it is working to find a lasting solution.
He asked Apam to share its views on how best government can intervene in problems experienced by people with albinism.
Mussa also asked Apam to follow up on court cases and find out what was delaying them.
On April 1 2018, the body of Masambuka, a young man with albinism in Machinga District, was found, weeks after he was reported missing early March.
Currently, 23 people are on remand at Zomba Prison after being arrested in connection with Masambuka’ murder.
Later in June 2018, Amnesty International urged Malawi to overhaul the criminal justice system to protect people with albinism.
At that time, the number of reported crimes against people with albinism in Malawi had risen to 148, including 14 murders and seven attempted murders, since November 2014, according to police figures.
However, Amnesty International had established that at least 21 people with albinism have been killed since 2014.