A wrangle has ensued between Salima District Council and communities in group village head (GVH) Bibi Futi in Senior Chief Kalonga over a graveyard they want to sell so they can buy land for a new graveyard.
The disputed graveyard is at Kamuzu Road Trading Centre and some an unidentified developer is allegedly interested in acquiring it for construction of shops.
The dictrict council’s spokesperson Grace Kapatuka confirmed in an interview that there is indeed an issue between the council and communities over the said graveyard.
According to her, the council has moved in to stop the developer from working on the site because some procedures were not followed.
Kapatuka said the Department of Antiquities and the Ministry of Health, among others, were not involved in ensuring that an environmental impact assessment was done before starting to develop the land.
The council’s stop-order, which Nation on Sunday has seen, indicates that it was made because the developer did not inform the council before demolishing tombstones and clearing the graveyard.
“That is government land, so, before starting any development on it, departments of Environment, Lands, Health and Antiquities should have been involved,” explained Kapatuka.
She said these departments were supposed to made recommendations on the project, “but on their own, the developers started clearing the land; hence the stop order”.
“Procedurally, there was need to first exhume remains of those buried there and bury them at a new place, which was not done, and is against the law,” said Kapatuka.
GVH Futi of the area, just as Senior Chief Kalonga, said they thought of offering the grave for sale to enable them acquire a piece of land elsewhere for opening a new graveyard.
She said the land which they secured was not enough for the local population and settlers.
“The council does not allocate places for graveyards. It is the initiative of the chiefs. If we want to open a graveyard, we buy someone’s land,” said Futi.
Though she didn’t disclose identities of the businesspersons interested in building shops on the old graveyard, she confirmed that the graveyard was indeed up for grabs.
“Just hear from me that people showed interest in buying the graveyard and that is the reason we started clearing the land and demolishing the tombstones,” said the GVH.
Firing on the other side of the wrangle is a village committee allegedly mandated to oversee establishment of a new graveyard.
In an interview, leader of the committee George Kanyemba said they had blessings of relatives of those buried at the graveyard.
He disputed claims that the graveyard belonged to the council; hence wondered why it was interfering in the matter.
On allegations that the committee received about K20 million as part payment of an alleged K150 million sale price, Kanyemba disputed the claim, suspecting that it was fuelled by those who wished they were in the committee.
“We consulted relatives of those who were buried here and they agreed to have the graveyard sold, and that they will be compensated from the sale. Ask any one of them, they will tell you they have not received any money yet,” he said, insisting that the transaction has not been finalised yet.
Kanyemba, however, was elusive as to who funded the clearing of the graveyard, including hiring of a bulldozer and sawing of timber from the felled trees.
In an interview, Senior Chief Kalonga, confirmed that there was a move to secure another land for a graveyard since the one along Kamuzu Road was full.
Drama ensued days after the council issued the stop order and a council tractor was seen offloading garbage at the site.
More than 30 gulewamkulu called Kapinimbira (which usually performs naked) stormed the site, demonstrating against the council’s move.
The gulewamkulu countered the council’s stop order by hoisting a red flag on the site and one of the people behind the invasion threatened that who-ever removes the flag would have their private parts swollen in 30 minutes.
Currently, all tombstones have been demolished, save for one, which according to reports, the deceased’s relatives have warned that no one should tamper with it until they exhume the remains and bury them elsewhere.
A well-placed source at the Department of Antiquities has blamed has the community for by-passing the law, saying much as there is no specific period from the last burial to the next developing process [when a graveyard is deemed full], the first step is to exhume the remains and bury them at another place.
At the disputed graveyard, the last remains of an adult were buried in 2017, but women have been burying stillborns as late as last month.