A family that faced persecution at the hands of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) in the 1980s is still tussling with government for return of its property valued at K208 million three years after the Ombudsman ruled in its favour.
However, the family of the late Steven Majighaheni Gondwe may have to wait further for a settlement until a new Attorney General (AG) is appointed.
This follows the 14-day ultimatum they have given government to settle the matter or the Minister of Justice will face vigils at his office.
While confirming receipt of the ultimatum in a letter, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Titus Mvalo has said it is a matter that needs to be addressed by the AG, and not him as minister.
In a letter, dated July 19 2021, titled ‘Notice of vigil in pursuit of compensation as directed by the Ombudsman’ addressed to the minister, the family says it has resorted to that action because the case has remained unresolved for too long.
In an interview, Gondwe’s son, Leonard, said the case dates back to September 12 1981 when his father was arrested and spent a year behind bars, before being re-arrested on October 30 1982 and released on April 4 1983.
He said his father’s estate, which included five heavy-duty trucks, four modern houses in Mzuzu and Rumphi, maize mills, household items such as refrigerators and K98 000 (over $36 000 then), which is around K26 million at today’s exchange rate, were confiscated on March 5 1982.
Upon his release, on October 26 1982 Gondwe sued government for false imprisonment and won the case, but he unsuccessfully fought for the return of his seized property until he died in September 2017.
Leonard said: “In 2001, the National Compensation Tribunal determined that government should pay my father K208 million for the property he lost, but he only received K20 000.
“He died in September 2017, but the case has remained unresolved until today.”
He son confirmed that the family has resolved to get the matter resolved by the Justice Minister.
“The Ombudsman already directed government to initiate a negotiation settlement but nothing has been done,” said Leonard.
A recommendation from Ombudsman Martha Chizuma, dated October 30 2017, which we have seen, said: “The government through the office of the Attorney General (AG) should initiate a negotiated settlement with the claimants’ representatives.
“This process should be overseen by a mediator to be mutually agreed upon by the parties. This process should be commenced and an agreement reached within three months from the date of this report.”
Ombudsman’s records show that, as indicated in the determination, the office followed up the matter in March 2018, but until now there has been no progress.
In a telephone interview, Mvalo confirmed receiving the letter, and indicated that he would liaise with the AG [yet-to be-appointed] on the way forward.
“I have seen the letter, [but] matters of compensation are done by AG, not the minister. But I will contact the AG on the matter and see the way forward,” he said.