Two of the country’s prominent legal scholars have urged government to invoke relevant criminal laws or, where they are not available, call for an emergency meeting of Parliament to pass them to deal with the bloodsucking rumours.
Since the blood sucking rumours started in Mulanje a few weeks ago, Mutharika expressed sadness over the saga and assured the people that his government would deal with those spreading fear in the saga. During his tour of affected districts last week, the President also said he would leave the matter to Paramount Chief Ngolongoliwa of Thyolo as it is related to witchcraft.
But commenting in an e-mail interview yesterday, South Africa-based Malawian professor of law Danwood Chirwa argued that the issue is escalating because government has not decisively acted on the matter.
“The issue required prompt and decisive response from the government. It has singularly failed [to do so],” he said.
Chirwa urged the leadership to send a clear message that any accusation of a bloodsucker and threats or use of violence against any person based on such accusation will be punished in accordance with the criminal law.
He said: “What the President and government have done is to offer an equivocal condemnation: saying on one hand that the killings and assaults must stop while at the same time endorsing the myths, beliefs and false claims and narratives of the existence of bloodsuckers.
“Such equivocation might have been deemed necessary in order to appease the villagers involved who form the political base of the current government.”
Chirwa said government had a constitutional duty to protect lives, investigate the unlawful and intentional killings and assist, and prosecute all perpetrators.
“Our criminal law does not recognise as a possible defence to murder, assault or causing grievous bodily harm that the defendant was actuated by some belief in incorporeal bloodsuckers,” he said, adding the issue had brought the country into international disrepute.
Chirwa’s assertions corroborated those of another legal mind who felt Mutharika should have summoned an emergency Parliament meeting to enact a law prohibiting people from spreading false rumours about bloodsuckers or from assaulting other people under the pretext that they are such.
“The law must have very stiff penalties for breach and be enforced vigorously,” said the lawyer, a senior counsel (SC), who opted for anonymity.
In a separate interview yesterday, University of Malawi (Unima) Chancellor College (Chanco) sociologist Charles Chilimampunga remarked that government needed to quickly enhance security and calm down the masses by working with traditional leaders and religious leaders, being the most trusted people, so that citizens do not live in fear.
He said people are reacting strangely because of fear as they are not sure of what exactly is happening regarding the issue.
He said: “There is a lot of fear right now among many people and it is very difficult to deal with such kind of thing because you cannot prove that it is not happening. It is also difficult to prove that it is happening, so people are uncertain as to what is actually happening.”
The sociologist also observed that some criminals are trying to gain from the situation by deliberately spreading the rumours to achieve their goals.
According to Chilimampunga, the issue was escalating due to people’s belief in supernatural things that there are spirits which they sometimes believe explain society happenings
Last week, The Nation quoted clinical psychologist Chiwoza Bandawe of Unima’s College of Medicine as having said there are many factors why people might be convinced that some mysterious bloodsuckers are hounding them.
Said Bandawe: “What happens is, where there are economic hardships and challenges, a sense of despair and hopelessness, people will find something to explain what is happening. As a result, they will vent out their aggression on someone, usually one who is successful, rich or is a minority.”
Bandawe likened the mob attacks on blood sucking suspects could be similar to xenophobia though the fear or hatred of foreigners and people from different cultures does not involve mystical or supernatural component.
“I think because Malawians believe in superstitions very much, the way of dealing with it is to find a mystical and spiritual explanation to all the challenges that we are going through,” he explained.
The blood sucking saga has stirred tension and panic in Mulanje, Phalombe, Chiradzulu, Thyolo, Nsanje and some parts of Blantyre, which has led some development partners to withdraw their operations from affected districts. Nine people have so far been killed for being suspected to be bloodsuckers, with the latest killing occurring yesterday in Chileka, Blantyre.
Two weeks ago, Cabinet minister Nicholas Dausi (Information and Communications Technology) and Henry Mussa (Industry, Trade and Tourism) described the issue as myths. However, Mutharika later said his government would get to the bottom of the issue and addressed awareness meetings in the bloodsuckers hotspot districts of Mulanje, Phalombe, Nsanje and Chiradzulu.n