Everybody is suspicious, fearful and tense. It is something akin to a war zone.
That is what life has become for the warring villages of Ngomano and Wilson in Senior Chief Thomas in Thyolo. The two villages have engaged in tit-for-tat attacks because of what are believed to be differences over chieftaincy.
Visitors to the two villages are met with unusually deserted homes, typical of people in hiding. Before long, once visitors begin their fact-finding mission, a rain of stones follows, targeting them.
The stone pelting is accompanied by a series of road blocks in an attempt to disable their movements.
Police have likened the wrangle to the situation that resulted in genocide in Rwanda. The law enforcers fear the hostility so much that no one has faced the law yet.
These revelations were made at a District Executive Committee (DEC) meeting on Thursday chaired by Deputy Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Augustine Mtendere.
The meeting was also attended by civil society organisations and the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC).
People from the two villages, who participated in the meeting, seemed to know the root cause of the problem as they admitted to the existence of an invisible force behind the fights, but no-one was forthcoming with information.
Distrust between people of the two villages is so deep that they said they would only open up during a commission of inquiry into the dispute to be led by MHRC.
The background to the meeting was an attack last Christmas on Ngomano Village that displaced 70 people and demolished 12 houses.
The assault was allegedly a revenge attack after Wilson Banda of Wilson Village was hacked by people suspected to be from Ngomano.
This has been the norm between the neighbouring villages for six years now, according to information from the district commissioner.
The villages are situated 22 kilometres from Thyolo Boma and have practically become a no-go zone for police and mediators.
Nation on Sunday was part of the fact-finding team to Ngomano on Thursday. The tour found the deserted rubble of the demolished houses, with neighbours going about their business as usual.
At a distance in the hills across Ngomano where Wilson Village lies, people were spotted sitting or standing in groups watching the minister and his team visit the demolished houses as if positioning themselves for war.
District health officer Dr. Andrew Likaka told Mtendere that the situation in the two villages is out of hand and needs urgent redress before lives are lost.
“I am three years in the district, but this wrangle has not only affected law enforcers, but also the district commissioner. The number of casuaties and their extent has told volumes of the seriousness of this dispute,” he said.
Likaka sympathised with the Ngomanos for the difficult situation they found themselves in after being displaced. He wondered how long they will continue living as refugees in their own country.
Mtendere wanted to know why no arrests have been made to date after all these years. DC for Thyolo Lawford Palani explained that each time people are arrested, they end up being released on bail, a situation he said fuels more attacks.
“I am eight months in the Thyolo office and my predecessor warned me about this feud. We know Banda has undue powers to control the Wilson Village. He was once arrested, but was released on bail. He gets his way and cannot be touched. We are yet to find out where he gets the support,” said Palani.
Police officer-in-charge Francis Namoyo said he believes there is a network that reveals police inside information to masterminds.
“We would have made arrests by now as we know suspects that hacked Banda and those that led the house demolitions. However, our men that were camped at both villages to monitor the situation were threatened just days before the arrest and we had to withdraw.
“Since arrests tend to fuel attacks, we have to work professionally to avert loss of lives and property. We have been accused of laxity and taking sides but we look at the larger picture,” said Namoyo.
Mtendere said there is something deeper or unexplained that was keeping law enforcers away from the two areas.
T/A Bvumbwe said he was hacked in the face when he went to mediate alongside Paramount Mkhumba.
The displaced people are currently seeking shelter at a resthouse at Bvumbwe. Chief Ngomano said people at the camp face poor living conditions to the point that many share a small room. He also said they are now living on donations of food and clothing from well-wishers.