Cecelia Mdachi, widow of Malawi Defence Force (MDF) Corporal Gift Kachedwa, who was killed in a presidential convoy accident, has seen enough that suggests her world is crumbling.
In the past 12 months, her children were nearly kicked out of secondary school as she struggled to pay school fees while also experiencing financial challenges to feed her family.
Her situation has worsened due to late disbursement of death gratuity and compensation. It is now a year since her husband died when an MDF vehicle rammed into a Blantyre Girls Primary School fence.
The accident, which happened last June, also killed another soldier, Corporal Sherif Maulana and left nine others injured. The deceased were working under MDF Military Police Battalion.
Mdachi told Nation on Sunday on Wednesday that she has been pushing MDF to speed up processing the death gratuity without a promising response.
“On Monday this week, I went to the barracks with a letter asking about the gratuity. I was told that they are still processing. I just wish they treat our issue with utmost urgency,” she said.
Her only source of income, selling water packed in re-used bottles or plastic bags which cost K50 each, was cut off after the market she was operating from was closed to pave way for a government project.
“It has not been easy for us. My other child nearly dropped out of school because of lack of school fees. Luckily, my sister intervened and offered to pay for her,” Mdachi, a mother of three, said in an interview.
Meanwhile, the widow, who stays in Area 23 in Lilongwe, says she has embarked on tomato selling to sustain her family.
MDF has been supporting the deceased families with food rations which include maize floor, meat and cooking oil. However, Mdachi said the supplements are never enough.
“I try to ensure that the children have a little something to eat. I sometimes do not give them enough. My fear is that if the situation continues, they may sleep on an empty stomach someday. This is the feeling that haunts me,” she said.
On her part, Maulana’s widow Esther Nyozani said it is hard to raise the three children her husband left behind. The youngest is a year old.
She said: “Raising the children, let alone the young one, has been a tough task. We were comfortable when their father was around. Everything changed in a short period.
“Our first born is at a private primary. When I proposed that we transfer him to a public school, he looked so disappointed.
“I didn’t want to confuse him so I maintained him at the private school with the hope that once we get the gratuity, I would be able to pay fees without struggles. That has not happened. I am sacrificing the little I make.”
Nyozani said her business, which she described as a small investment, involves ordering merchandise online from abroad and selling locally.
“The economic environment is not conducive for business. I have been making enough money from it to sustain my family,” she said.
But in a written response, MDF spokesperson Major Emmanuel Mlelemba said they finalised processing the payment five months ago.
“It was processed way back and one got death commutation in January, 2022 whereas the other could not because of some problems with the account in which the funds were deposited. However, this has been sorted out,” he said.
Asked how long the process of disbursing gratuity is supposed to take, Mlelemba said: “It is difficult to precisely indicate the period as this is a process that involves a number of stakeholders. What MDF does is process and submit to the Accountant General for other necessary procedures.”
Reacting to MDF’s response, the two widows said they had no knowledge that the gratuity was paid out and that there are problems with the accounts.
Meanwhile, as they wait for death gratuity, the two widows have jointly issued a claim totalling K64 million as compensation from government for loss of their husbands.
Through legal firm Chimowa and Associates, they warn that failure to honour the payment would force them to institute legal proceedings.
“In the premises, our clients intend to commence litigation for loss of expectation of life and loss of dependency. As such, in the spirit of out-of-court settlement, our clients are demanding the sum of K34 000 000 each [K24 000 000 as damages for loss of dependency and K10 000 000 for loss of expectation of life].
“Unless we receive communication on how your client intends to settle our clients’ claim within 90 days from the date hereof, we have instructions to commence a civil action against the Malawi Government soon after the expiry of the mandatory statutory notice period,” reads the notice of intention dated May 18 2022 and addressed to the Attorney General (AG) Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda.
The notice further reveals that the vehicle that was involved in the accident was not insured.
“It is also important to mention that at the material time, motor vehicle registration number MDF 3189 Toyota Land Cruiser was not covered by any insurance policy contrary to the dictates of Section 141 of the Road Traffic Act.
“Our clients further inform us that as a result of the accident, their husbands sustained serious head injuries upon which they were pronounced dead on arrival at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital,” the law firm writes in the notice.
The widows’ lawyers’ further point out that the accident was “wholly caused by the negligence of the driver of the said motor vehicle registration number MDF 3189 Toyota Land Cruiser by excessive speeding”.
“Consequently, the driver was charged with the offence of causing death by reckless or negligent driving contrary to section 126 (4) (c) of the Road Traffic Act.”