It’s July 20, the day Malawians commemorate one of the national struggles to preserve the lamp of democracy they elected in 1993. JOHN CHIRWA interviewed Jenifer Juba, who witnessed the death of her brother, Tumeyo, during nationwide demonstrations against former president Bingu wa Mutharika on this day in 2011. She laments government’s failure to remit a K31.2 million settlement the High Court ordered in favour of 10 families whose breadwinners were gunned down by the police in Mzuzu. Excerpts:
How do you remember July 20 2011 five years on?
It was a day of loss. On that day, I was attending a funeral in my village in Mzimba. When I came back home, I found news that my brother Tumeyo Juba was missing. We searched for him everywhere only to find him at the Mzuzu Central Hospital where he had been admitted with gun wounds on the abdomen. He was at the intensive care unit (ICU) where doctors had already operated on him. He spent close to three weeks at the ICU before he was relocated to the general ward. He died aged 25 on August 28 after spending a month in hospital.
After his death, how is his family coping?
It has since relocated to the village in Euthini, Mzimba, due to financial difficulties. They failed to cope with life in the city because Tumeyo, as a businessperson, was the breadwinner for them. Now, the family is in deep poverty. I wish I had money to support the family. But I am a widow with seven children to take care of. There is no other person who is well to do in our family to support the bereaved family.
What has government done to mitigate the situation?
Government has been a big let-down. The Bingu wa Mutharika regime was never concerned about our welfare. When Joyce Banda took over, there was a flicker of hope. I remember she invited us to her residence where she donated a K30 million cheque through her Mudzi Transformation Fund. But the fund played tricks on the donation such that they were giving us in bits and pieces as if it were a loan. Basically, that is the only money we have received so far and it is from an individual and not government. The present government is also not helping. It’s like we have been abandoned. The cemetery at Zolozolo is overgrown with bush. The graves are in sorry state as tombstones are yet to be erected five years after the incident. That is how much we have been abandoned.
What about the civil society which spearheaded the protests?
The CSOs have also abandoned us. It is surprising because these were in the forefront organising the demonstrations. But today, it is as if our welfare is none of their business. If our welfare was of interest to them, they should have been taking part in the yearly July 20 commemorations. For instance, for two years we have been holding commemoration prayers without their support. They told us that they had no money. This year, there is likelihood that we will do it alone again.
We are told that there will be demonstrations today. What are they for?
All we are saying is: we need compensations. The demonstrations want to underscore that message. We have orphaned children who need fees. There are widows who need day-to-day support. We have parents who were depending on the deceased, but there is no commitment from government to show willingness to help us. So, the demonstrations are an option to force government into action.
How will you make sure the march is not a repeat of the violent scenes which took place five years ago?
The problem with the last demonstrations is that some people took advantage to hold riots in the name of demonstrations. And most of the people who were killed were not part of the riots. They were individuals with businesses or something to attend to in town. A demonstration is not bad in itself. So, these will be peaceful demonstrations because, as victims, we know what it means to lose relatives in demonstrations.
Any other words?
We need tombstones for our deceased relatives. These will not be needed at Zolozolo only. Some of our relatives, like Tumeyo, were buried in our villages. So, we need tombstones at Zolozolo and in our villages. n