Malawi continues to record cases of mob justice, now and then. Just on Wednesday, two cases of mob justice grabbed headlines in the country’s dailies.
‘Man torched to death in Mzimba’ screamed one headline on The Nation’s Northern Region page. Just a flipside of the page yelled another headline ‘Two burnt to death in mob justice act’.
The content of the two stories is almost similar—irate residents in Mzimba and Blantyre, respectively, torched to death suspected burglars.
And the take home message is the same too—Malawians are angry. Very angry at robbers. And they are tired. Tired of lawlessness and insecurity; hence, taking the law into their own hands.
The two stories bring to memory yet another thrilling narrative of mob justice at Ekwendeni in Mzimba in February this year.
The sprawling trading centre, which is spreading out over a large area in an untidy and irregular way, degenerated into a battlefield as a mob mobilised itself to avenge a crime.
Teargas, running battles with police, burnt tyres, large stones and tree branches on the M1 Road-were chaotic scenes that brought business to a standstill as the road was blocked for motorists and cyclists.
Apparently, the mob wanted to burn a house owned by parents of suspects in a murder case of a taxi driver Emmanuel Harawa. The angry crowd was intercepted by the police to birth the chaos that lasted close to seven hours.
But it’s the mob that had the last laugh. At 10pm, it was mission-accomplished. The modern brick house was up in flames to the disappointment of its occupant Patricia Nyirenda, the suspects’ sister.
“You build a house once and for all. And someone to torch it in a mob justice over an alleged crime is injustice at its worst,” says Patricia.
The torching of the house followed the arrest of Patricia’s three brothers and a sister who are alleged to be at the centre of the gruesome murder of Harawa who was found in a pool of blood without private parts and head.
The 34-year-old Harawa, who was plying his trade in Mzuzu, was also robbed of a vehicle—a Toyota Vitz registration LL 5279—which the unknown assailants had hired.
The vehicle, believed to have been stolen from the victim, was recovered as two of the six suspects were caught painting it at a garage at Ekwendeni.
The other four suspects were arrested for being found in possession of a mobile phone belonging to the deceased. These are Charles Nyirenda, 25, Richard Nyirenda, 29, Moses Nyirenda, 28 and Catherine Ngulube, 22, from Mbiriyakula Village, Traditional Authority Mtwalo in Mzimba.
Two days after the arrest, a mob descended upon Patricia’s house with intent to avenge the alleged crime.
“It began as a mere noise along the main road. Then it became louder. It later dawned on me that the mob was approaching our house.
“I alerted the police who arrived at the scene while the angry crowd had started pelting stones at the house,” explains the 19-year-old Patricia.
The crowd was dispersed from the house only to vent their anger on motorists who were blocked passage through the M1 Road.
The fracas extended into hours as the civilians engaged in running battles with police. And six people were arrested and charged with proposing violence.
The police continued to guard the house to protect Patricia and her four-month-old baby from the mob. But the locals had a better plan.
“Up to when will they continue guarding the house? Is it a State House? We will see when they leave,” shouted one protestant.
True to his word, as daylight gave way to darkness, calm reigned on the scene. Police withdrew its personnel, thinking that all was well. And that was the time the plotters pounced. They petrol-bombed the house into ashes.
Remains of the demolished house mirrored just how mob justice can reduce an individual to a puppy.
“I was left homeless and destitute for three days. I was almost a refugee in my own country,” says Patricia, who has since exiled to her village.
Her widowed mother is also forced to stay in South Africa where she had gone to do business.
Cases of mob justice have been rampant recently. Periodically, the media has been reporting of petty thieves being stoned, burglars being beaten to death or lynched.
A local at Ekwendeni, who refused to be identified, said he took part in burning the house because they have little trust in the police who he described as corrupt and demotivated.
“The police are very slow in prosecuting cases. Sometimes it takes eternity for a case to conclude,” he says.
Village head Captain Jere of Ekwendeni says cases of mob justice are on the rise because security has been compromised in the country.
He says locals feel let-down by the police; hence, taking the law into their own hands.
“If you catch a thief, you find that the person is let free after a day or two. That is demotivating to the locals as well as members of police community. The option they have is to administer justice on their own,” he says.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera, however, heaps the blame on the Judiciary, saying the police keep suspects in police cells for not more than 48 hours.
“If the individuals are still needed for prosecution after that time we send them to prison for remand. So, in that instance, it’s not us delaying the case. It is the Judiciary because at that point in time we transfer all of our files to the courts,” he says.
Judiciary spokesperson Mlenga Mvula says it is wrong to heap the blame on the courts, saying as the judiciary they are doing all they can to make sure that justice prevails. n