The self-proclaimed leader of United States of Thyolo and Mulanje and Peoples’ Land Organisation (PLO), Vincent Wandale has pleaded not guilty to four counts of conspiracy to commit a misdemeanour, unauthorised use of land, criminal trespass and inciting violence.
Wandale and 22 members of PLO appeared before the Blantyre Magistrate Court today.
Wandale and his vice Chrispin Nkhoma are answering four counts while the remaining 21 people are answering the first three counts.
He was arrested on September 2 while the 22 of Wandale’s followers were arrested on September 1 2016 after hundreds of villagers, mostly from Thyolo, invaded privately owned Conforzi Tea Estate in Thyolo and started sharing land among them.
The court has also denied Wandale and his followers bail.
Presiding over the case, Senior Resident Magistrate Thokozani Soko told the court she could not grant bail to the 23 to prevent them from committing more serious crimes and for the safety of the accused persons saying their conduct have caused shock to the Malawi community and their lives might be in danger.
Soko also said that since the accused persons stay in different places, it could be difficult for the police to monitor them during the time of trial.
“It is in the interest of justice that the accused be release on bail. However, those conditions are not absolute but depend on the conviction of the court. I therefore deny granting bail to the accused because doing so may lead to seriousness interference with the case,” she said.
Wandale however, plead with the court to give special consideration to a breastfeeding mother who has the child with her in prison since she was arrested and a minor who is among the accused.
Soko maintained her stand and after consulting Southern Region prosecution officer David Mtete, referred the minor to Bvumbwe Reformatory Centre in Thyolo while the rest remain on remand at Chichiri Prison.
Wandale’s request to have the case changed from criminal to civil and that other accused persons should not be tried as individuals but him and trustees of the organisation be tried on their behalf did not yield results as Mtete argued that the 23 were arrested as individuals and not on behalf of the organisation.
Wandale told the court that arresting him was in violation of the law saying he is immune to criminal proceedings as supreme leader of the United States of Mulanje and Thyolo, a state he declared on March 31 2016.
On this, Magistrate Soko emphasised that Malawi has only one elected president who is mandated to look after all the land of the country and that he divided his powers to chiefs to look after customary land and not to the leader of Thyolo and Mulanje.
“PLO members have taken the law in their hands. They want to divide this peaceful nation. We all know that all land in this country is in the hands of the president. I would advise the members to follow proper channels in addressing their issues,” said Soko.
PLO is believed to have about 5000 members.
Just like on Tuesday, police blocked hundreds of members of the organisation from entering the court.
The case has since been adjourned to September 12 2016 for commencement of hearing of the case and parading of witnesses.