Hon. Folks, the country this week witnessed a distressing wave of mob justice by some citizens who felt hard done by fellow citizens suspected of committing theft and other offences, including witchcraft.
The most unthinkable cases involved the stabbing to death of a woman in Mzimba by her South African returnee boyfriend on alleged infidelity grounds, the stoning to death of a helpless 70-year-old woman in Dedza over witchcraft charges and the defilement of an 11-year-old girl in Chikwawa by her assailant who was caught red-handed in broad daylight.
Then there is an issue of torching Kumbali Lodge by surrounding communities over land disputes which also featured prominently in the mainstream and social media.
These deaths recorded in the last few months due to mob acts of mob justice come against Malawi Police Service statistics indicating that about 86 people died across the country between January and November last year due to the vice.
The recent attacks have triggered a lot of public rage with the country’s first citizen warning that acts of mob justice and lawlessness will not be tolerated by his Tonse administration.
Addressing the issues in part on Wednesday, President Lazarus Chakwera acknowledged that such cases have been there for some time but he was quick to caution all would-be perpetrators that his government will not let citizens with superstitious beliefs endanger other people’s lives.
We must also commend the leadership for strongly condemning these crimes and calling on all citizens to support government in its fight against mob killings in accordance with the rule of law.
Which begs the question; where did Malawi get it wrong for such inhumane and uncivilised acts of mob mentality to reach the current levels?
Hon. Folks, for years, mob justice has manifested differently in Malawi and continues to fuel anarchy in our societies as some people still believe public shaming or elimination of those viewed as offenders is an effective way of dealing with their personal social and legal challenges.
But it has been persistently emphasised that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty and it makes no sense for someone to disregard such legal tenets by playing the role of complainant, prosecutor and the jury while denying their victims a chance to defend themselves in a court of law.
We, therefore, urge authorities to act promptly in identifying and prosecuting perpetrators of the recent cases and others that are longstanding and urgently address the root causes of such attacks.
The Ministry of Civic Education and National Unity should also be tasked with the responsibility of launching a special countrywide awareness campaign to encourage Malawians to report all suspected crimes to police rather than take justice into their own hands.
It is pleasing to hear that some organisations, including the Women Lawyers Association have engaged an extra gear and intend to petition the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) over the rampant attacks and killings of women and the elderly, among others.
This is what is needed at the moment and different watchdogs must be vigilant to ensure that government does not sleep on the job in making Malawi a better place for every citizen to live in.
The government through relevant ministries, departments and agencies should also collaborate its efforts in improving the country’s criminal justice system to end the deeply entrenched mob culture and the impunity of taking the law into our own hands at the expense of established channels.
But all these things cannot bear tangible results unless the citizens become law abiding and respect the rights of fellow citizens. In this way, we will all contribute to the development of the country.