People’s Land Organisation (PLO) leader Vincent Wandale has indicated that he will appeal against his conviction and subsequent 18-month suspended sentence because the court made some “grave errors” in reaching the decisions.
Private practice lawyer Michael Goba Chipeta, who is representing Wandale, said in an interview yesterday that whereas they are happy Wandale did not get a custodial sentence, they believe the “grave errors” that the court made have occasioned actual discouragement of justice.
Chipeta was reacting to the Blantyre Magistrate’s Court’s sentencing of Wandale yesterday to 18 months suspended sentence following his conviction last Thursday on three counts of conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor, unauthorised use of land and criminal trespass.
He said he will be filing the submissions for the appeal before the end of this week.
Said the lawyer: “Just to summarise; on the first count the particulars of the offence did not specify the misdemeanor which they said my client committed.
“On the second count, the court did not prove any use of the land, and on the third count the court was supposed to prove the intention by my client to annoy the owner of the said land, but it did not even prove his presence there on that day.”
Wandale was arrested on September 3 in Lilongwe in connection with an incident that happened on September 1 at Conforzi Tea Estate where hundreds of locals invaded the estate and started sharing land for permanent settlement and cultivation. They claimed the land belonged to their forefathers.
He has been on remand at Chichiri Prison since September 5.
Passing the sentence, senior resident magistrate Thokozani Soko said the first count attracts 10 months imprisonment while the second is worth 24 months and the third count attracts one month imprisonment.
She, however, said she gave the suspended sentence considering that Wandale was a first offender and that he did not commit the offences with an intention to personally benefit or enrich himself.
The magistrate also ordered Wandale to present three sureties in court and pay K100 000 bond, which he did.
Further, Wandale has been ordered not to be involved in any land dispute within the 18 months period and “should not be found to be aiding or abetting any person to commit similar offences and not be found in any of the disputed land”.
PLO board chairperson John Pindani said he was happy that Wandale is finally out of prison.
However, he expressed disappointment that no solution has been reached yet regarding problems of shortage of land in Thyolo.
But Goodwin Mwakanema, chief accountant for Conforzi Plantations Limited, said he wished for a custodial sentence considering the influence Wandale has on the people.
Said Mwakanema: “We wished for a custodial sentence to deter other people from committing same offences. Wandale is able to mobilise huge numbers of people. He is a threat and chances are there that others might wish to follow his footsteps. But all in all, we respect the decision of the court.”
Meanwhile, a group of concerned individuals is sourcing petitions online in solidarity of the cause Wandale and PLO are championing. The group says the petition has gained momentum following Wandale’s conviction.
Responding to an emailed questionnaire, petition coordinator Paliani Chinguwo said currently 111 people have pended their signatures.
He is hopeful that by December this year they will achieve the target of 500 signatures and deliver the same to President Peter Mutharika and Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu.
Chinguwo said since the conviction, 20 people from across the world, including Britain, Nigeria, United States of America, Botswana, and South Africa have signed the petition which began circulating early September soon after Wandale and 23 other members of PLO were arrested.
He said: “We are saying arrests, prosecutions and convictions are not the lasting solutions to this issue. Let the government be bold enough to tackle the underlying social injustice that stem from the colonial era. That is what will adequately address the matter. This is the message we are carrying to the Head of State and the entire State machinery through this petition.”
Chinguwo emphasised that delayed land reforms and redistribution can potentially result in intense pressures on land that may culminate in civil strife, possibly leading to destruction of property, land invasion and occupation.
He added that the petition emanated from discussions in two social media groups comprising Malawians called Malawi Past Testimonies and Bantu Perankhi Ya Umisiri about the complex problem of land in Thyolo and Mulanje.
Through his grouping, Wandale argues that estate owners in Thyolo and Mulanje deprived the locals of farm land.