Forfeiture act victim and former renowned businessperson steven majighaheni gondwe died at the weekend aged 84 without getting his compensation for the loss of property during malawi congress party (mcp) rule.
Reacting to gondwe’s death, human rights activist timothy mtambo, who is centre for human rights and rehabilitation (chrr) executive director, yesterday accused government of practicing selective justice whereby the wheels of justice move slowly for poor complainants while the rich and well-connected are served speedily.
He said: “it is shame on us, as a country, and i am saddened that we made majighaheni cry for justice over the past 37 years and we totally ignored looking at his case speedily. It is inhuman to subject anyone to 37 years of injustice. And yet, we know of payment or compensation cases of rich and well-connected people which are dealt with at supersonic speed.
“majighaheni has died as a poor and injured person because the state machinery grabbed wealth he had worked hard to build. I feel the deceased will soon be asking us questions, from his grave, on why both the rejected old one-party state and the new democratic system punished him and his family members with impunity for no crime at all.”
Gondwe, regarded as one of the biggest victims of the forfeiture act, died after collapsing in the face of a serious asthma attack on friday night in his house at chikulamasinda village in paramount chief chikulamayembe’s area in rumphi. He was later pronounced dead on arrival at rumphi district hospital early saturday.
The 84-year-old died destitute while waging a long court battle over k200 million in property compensation.
Reacting to mtambo’s accusations, minister of justice and constitutional affairs samuel tembenu said it was unfair to blame the current administration which did not directly cause the alleged injustice and which is also not supposed to interfere with legal processes.
He nonetheless expressed shock and regret over the death of gondwe, whose case was first exposed to many people two years ago after the nation published his story of waiting for justice for over 30 years.
Tembenu suggested the need for “a healthy national debate” on how to improve the justice system in malawi.
Mtambo stressed the need for government to make the justice system more professional and responsive, pointing out that there are many other aggrieved ordinary people for whom justice is both delayed and denied.
In his response to mtambo’s comments, tembenu said current shortfalls in the justice system are a collective responsibility borne across the different administrations which have ruled malawi.
But he acknowledged that the majighaheni’s case could be one of many reasons why the justice system needs the national debate that may improve it, particularly in curtailing delays in hearing cases.
Lawyer and nkhata bay central legislator raphael mhone expressed shock and sadness that majighaheni, whom he was representing in the compensation case, had died before the case was concluded in the supreme court of appeal.
However, he said while his principal client’s death is shocking, the case will still be pursued on his behalf through family representation.
Two years ago, the nation broke the story of how the late gondwe‘s booming business empire was forcefully forfeited after some government and mcp officials accused him of being arrogant and showy with his financial muscle at a son’s wedding in mzuzu in 1981.
Soon after the wedding, the then dreaded special branch police officers detained and incarcerated gondwe for two years, first at maula prison in lilongwe and, later, at mzuzu prison.
His second wife, jean, was removed as a nominated member of parliament and children in the family were ostracised by community members. It was at this point that gondwe’s property was snatched by the authorities.
Government documents indicate that, in 1981, gondwe had property worth k1 203 600. Back then, the us dollar-malawi kwacha exchange rate was k2.70.
Thus, in us dollar terms, the man was worth roughly $445 000, which translates to around k326 million at today’s k733 exchange rate. n