Presidential press secretary Steve Nhlane has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the plight of Thyolo villagers displaced by a multi-faceted chieftaincy wrangle, saying the deep-rooted and complex conflict has no deadline.
The presidency was speaking for the first time since December 25 last year when 92 Malawians from Ngomano in Traditional Authority (T/A) Thomas took refuge in an incomplete lodge at Bvumbwe Trading Centre after decades of power struggle culminated into Wilson residents invading the ill-fated village and destroying crops, homes and livestock.
Two weeks ago, elders of the evicted community said in an interview that they want President Joyce Banda to resolve the uncertainty that has pushed about 30 pupils out of school, as they cannot take any more pain and promises amid waning trust in the ongoing mediation process facilitated by Thyolo District Council, civil society organisations (CSOs) and other government ministries.
In a statement last week, Nhlane could not give any timeline for resolving the wrangle, but indicated that “government’s desire was to have this conflict resolved yesterday”.
“Government is equally concerned with the slow pace of mediation. However, it must be noted that the conflict in question is deep-rooted and complex in nature that it cannot be resolved overnight,”.
For eight months, Thyolo District Council has been spearheading mediation talks along with representatives of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security, CSOs and traditional leaders to end the impasse.
However, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development public relations officer Maganizo Mazeze said in a press statementon Friday that what began as a chieftaincy spat when Ngomanos deposed Wilson a few years ago has given way to a personal feud among the displaced and their clan members.
Mazeze said the grudge battle for supremacy was concluded last year when Wilson residents reclaimed their territory following government decision to restore the toppled dynasty.
“The displaced people, who are part of the Ngomano clan and have been seeking shelter at Bvumbwe, are in conflict with some members of their clan on what we are meant to believe are family issues. It is this other group of the Ngomano clan led by aMr Kapanga that has stood its ground against the return of the destitute members of the family,” he said.
He indicated that his ministry is shocked that the family members “inconceivably are failing to reconcile” despite high-level talks, meetings and visits to the affected locality.
The statement claims that Ngomanos rebuffed, without giving reasons, efforts to temporarily relocate them to a piece of land government identified near Makande Prison.
It reads: “The District Commissioner for Thyolo, Mr Bennet Nkasala, signed an agreement with the displaced people on 12th August 2013 to temporarily relocate them to Makande. Mr Elenimo Fabiano
“However, the people negated on the agreement without giving reasons to the DC, even after government procured foodstuffs and arranged transport to take them to the new place.”
Ngomano and his people see the relocation as a ploy to uproot them from the land of their ancestors. They look forward to the day they will cease to be refugees in their own country, when the warring sides will give peace a chance to allow children to return to school and farming families to resume their agricultural activities.
With no deadline insight, the congested unsanitary camp at Bvumbwe has become a haven of ringworms, waterborne diseases and food shortages.
Mazeze said the line ministry is shocked with the prolonged situation and the despicable condition in which the displaced villagers live. However, he said it is equally incomprehensible that members of the same clan can engage in criminal attacks against each other.
The ministry condemned violent acts and called for reconciliation, saying the current conflict in Ngomano is no longer a chieftaincy issue, but rather a deep-rooted and extremely complex family matter that can best be resolved by the family members themselves.
As early as March, Eye of the Child executive director Maxwell Matewere urged government to assert its authority because children and women were facing untold misery. In May, Malawi Watch’s Billy Banda asked the President to tour the warring villages to deliver a peace statement and visit the Bvumbwe camp to comfort the evictees.
However, the President kept mum on the long-drawn out conflict when she toured the area to elevate T/A Thomas two weeks ago.