It is 12.30pm on Wednesday in Neno. Three little children left behind by their late father, Dake Kamenya, have been sitting alone in the baking sun for hours, waiting for their mother to return with food.
Kamenya, who was the breadwinner, is one of two men who were brutally killed last Saturday over witchcraft allegations, an incident that also left another victim unconscious.
The mother has no time to properly mourn her husband. For the sake of the children—aged between three and four—she has to leave them alone at home—go three kilometres into Mozambique in search of food.
“Amayi apita kosaka chakudya [Mum has gone to search for food]…” the oldest of the children said, looking weak and hungry.
The innocent children have become unwilling pawns in a gruesome murder story that has left people wondering what demons possessed the residents of Nseula Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Dambe in Neno, to butcher fellow human beings like they were rabid dogs.
It all started after a 17-year-old boy was bitten by a snake in the village. He was rushed to Nsambe Health Centre, only to be pronounced dead on arrival.
The sudden death did not go well with some of the family members and the village at large. They believed the boy was bewitched and their suspects were the deceased’s two uncles—Kamenya and Chalaka Kunkeyani who, since the 1980s, have been staying in Mkudzu Village in Mozambique—two kilometres from Nseula Village.
So, the villagers mobilised themselves and agreed to go and deal with Kamenya and Kunkeyani.
The plan was resisted by one of the villagers, Pisitiki Mtima, who was heavily beaten and left for the dead by the mob.
“I told them not to avenge the boy’s death,” Mtima said in an interview on Thursday, after he was discharged from Neno District Hospital.
According to Kunkeyani’s widow, Esme, the mob from Nseula Village arrived at her house at around 8am.
“They were over 15 people. They arrived when we were getting set for church; we are Seventh Day Adventists.
“Firstly, they told us about the passing on of a 17-year-old boy. And they asked my husband to go with them, which I was against. I insisted that they should go through our village head Mkudzu,” she narrated.
Village head Mkudzu told Nation on Sunday he met the group at Kunkeyani’s house, where a decision was made that he should accompany family members.
“They came with their village head, so, I was assured of his security. All they told me was that they wanted him to attend the burial, which I had no problems with,” said Mkudzu.
Kamenya, who stays 200 metres from Kunkeyani’s house joined him to attend the funeral.
But upon arrival at Nseula Village, according to a witness, Kunkeyani and Kamenya started sensing danger and before they realised what was happening they had both their hands and legs tied and soon in a pool of blood, following mercilessly hacking with pangas.
Kunkeyani’s son Magunde, 36, said efforts to rescue his father proved futile.
“I tried to reason with them, but they threatened to deal with me as well,” he said.
Magunde said they did not allow him to take the body of his father back to Mozambique for burial.
Instead, he said, the villagers dug a half-metre hole where they buried the two bodies.
But chief Mkudzu in Mozambique is still waiting for his people, and he has sent a letter, to that effect, to his counterpart, village head Nseula, in Malawi.
Meanwhile T/A Dambe has suspended village head Nseula over the gruesome incident.
“We are making our own investigations. So, we have suspended him until the investigations are over,” said Dambe in an interview.
In 2016, four elderly people were brutally murdered in the same area, again, on suspicion of witchcraft, following sudden death of a 17-year-old girl.
But what has brought this lawlessness in the community? Dambe thinks the problem is absence of police presence.
The community travels over 28 kilometres to Ligowe Police Unit, but this unit has only four police officers, who have no vehicle. The police station at the Boma, where there is a car, is over 40 kilometres away.
Dambe also laments that some of those who were arrested in the 2016 incident were released, which he said has compromised the security in the area.
Director for civil and political rights at Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) Peter Chisi blames the Neno murderers on people’s mindset.
“Actually, we visited the community after the 2016 incident, we conducted awareness campaigns and we thought the problem is over, but look today? This is sad,” he said.