When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.
A week-old baby is nursing debilitating burns after a house she was sleeping in was torched by a mob opposed to the newly installed Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe in Rumphi.
The burns of the baby bares the ugly face of the battle for the topmost Tumbuka kingship.
On Thursday, the power struggle turned ugly when innocent children fell victim too.
The locals lament children’s agony, with two more reported missing and one kidnapped but rescued by the police 24 hours later.
Seven families, mostly of traditional leaders, in villages surrounding Bolero Trading Centre had their houses torched.
The arsonists also reduced tobacco sheds to ashes and stole goats in the process.
The battle for Chikulamayembe chieftaincy continues two weeks after President Lazarus Chakwera installed Bongololo Gondwe much to the displeasure of long-time caretaker Mtima Gondwe.
Seven-day-old Uchizi Gondwe, granddaughter of group village head (GVH) Msindami, fell victim to the prizefight that has raged in State House, on the streets of Bolero and in court.
Her mother Idah Phiri was recovering from a C-section wound when the baby was trapped in fireballs.
She recalled hearing young men knocking on her door, demanding the head of GVH Msindami.
“I told them he wasn’t home, but they didn’t listen. So they broke into the house and torched everything. My two friends fled, but I couldn’t because I was in pain and wanted to rescue my baby,” Phiri narrates.
She desperately grabbed the baby to escape, but the attackers “pushed me back inside”.
“They repeatedly beat me up on the C-section wound in the underbelly. Some even shouted that they didn’t care if we die,” Phiri recounted in an interview on Sunday.
The woman and her baby have “lost everything”, including clothes and food.
“I have nothing except the clothes I wore that day we were attacked. How does the chieftaincy wrangle affect us?” she shook her head in disbelief while lamenting police inaction.
“Someone has to answer for this,” Phiri stated.
During The Nation’s visit to the area, Baby Uchizi kept weeping ostensibly due to unbearable burns.
“Some people are heartless,” Phiri sighed, calming her.
Nearby, nine-year-old Luka Gondwe is still in pain from the beatings.
Speaking in the presence of his mother, the Standard Four pupil at Bolero Primary School recalled how he was held hostage by a trio that tied him to a chair and beat him for hours.
He recounted: “They demanded that my father should come and rescue me. They threw sand in my eyes while beating me up. At night, some threw me in the air.
“I wasn’t given food and I slept in the cold. I still feel the pain of the beatings.”
The son of Jona Gondwe, who stands accused of supporting Mtima, was rescued by police from Mzuzu at around noon on Friday.
His mother Violet Ngwira wonders why the police at Bolero could not rescue him on Thursday when she reported the abduction.
GVH Chisumbu saw his two houses and tobacco bales go up in smoke.
“I took a million-kwacha loan from Limbe Leaf. How will I pay back? I have no home and I continue to receive threats,” he said.
The homeless community leader has sent his two wives and children to live with his in-laws.
Two sons of Hunga Gondwe, spokesperson for the Mtima faction, are reported missing.
Mtima, speaking at his Bolero residence, said he has rejected the government’s offer of a diplomatic job in Canada or Jerusalem.
He said: “They are beating up my people, torching houses and there is nothing government is doing to deal with culprits. I cannot go to the embassy. I cannot betray my people or sell the chieftaincy.
“Bongololo was among the people who persuaded me to retire early so that I become chief. Today, they are doing this?”
But Bongololo’s spokesperson, GVH Chakanda Gondwe, said Mtima’s supporters provoked the situation.
He explained: “It all started when their side threw stones at the convoy of Deputy Minister of Health [Enock Phale] last week but the Paramount Chief doesn’t support violence. He wants unity in his kingdom.
“Mtima has to accept that the chieftaincy is gone and move on.”
Northern Region Police spokesperson Maurice Chapola said they have increased visibility in the area and arrests are expected soon.
He said: “We have increased the number of personnel in the area and as such, we expect more visibility. Very soon, people will be arrested.
“We want to send signals to all law breakers that we will not tolerate what they are doing.”
Minister of National Unity Timothy Mtambo said he is engaging the concerned parties to restore peace and harmony.
The troubled chieftaincy dates back to 1870 when Mlowoka crossed Lake Malawi and settled in Rumphi West.