The police have become an endangered species in the line of duty, writes our Staff Reporter AYAMI MKWANDA.
Low pay. Dilapidated housing. Guns snatched by civilians. Police units torched by angry pupils. Law enforcers stoned by people they safeguard. Some beaten by criminals in the night.
Even Black Marias , as police armoured personnel carrier vehicles are known, are apparently not immune to riotous mobs they are made to withstand and disperse.
For all their sacrifices, police officers mostly dominate headlines renouncing brutality—even when they shoot in self-defence.
“With widespread misconception of democracy and human rights, policing in Malawi has become a thankless job. But it is noble. Usually, we put our lives at risk protecting lives and property of people, even those who bay for our blood,” says Dave Zuwawo in an interview at Chileka Police Station in Blantyre.
Yesterday marked exactly a year since he escaped death at the hands of rioting pupils in Blantyre.
On June 13 last year, the pupils’ strike over a prolonged teachers’ sit-in across the country left the 55-year-old unconscious, wounded and traumatised.
That day, he reported for duties at 7.15am. He remembers the officer-in-charge ordering him to go and quell the riots in Lunzu.
“The pupils had closed the M1 and a team had to go to restore calm. Being the station’s operations officer, I made sure we hit the road—driving at a breakneck speed,” recalls the father-of-six.
Zuwawo sped off unaware of the situation, he says.
“We underestimated the pupils’ ability to wreak havoc,” he recounts.
But hell broke loose at Kaphuka where hundreds of pupils from Kaphuka, Lunzu, Namiyo and Mtenjera primary schools had blocked the road with logs, rocks and burning tyres.
“As we jumped out of the police vehicle, the children surrounded us. We were cornered. Only one officer had a gun. As the mob grew, we split into two groups. But we were caught off-guard. I yelled to my colleagues to run for their lives,” he narrates.
The armed officer reportedly reached for the trigger, but Zuwawo ordered him not to shoot.
“I felt it was better to escape than use force on unarmed civilians,” he explains, with calmness.
By then, villagers had joined the riots, chanting: “Kill the police!”
Some police officers hastily jumped into the vehicle and sped away, leaving Zuwawo, Morton Chitsulo, Grace Ntheke, Eunice Ntewa and Chrispin Chibisa at the mercy of the mob.
The five fled towards Lunzu Trading Centre, where they hid in a house the irate protestors wanted to burn.
On the M1, Zuwawo fell in the hands of the multitude.
“The mob beat me and some trampled on my rib cage. Someone brought a used tyre and another had a jerry can of fuel. They were chanting: mvekeni timuwotche [Let’s burn him].”
Zuwawo fainted, probably in awe. When he regained his senses, he was being treated for multiple injuries at Mlambe Hospital.
“I had sustained deep cuts in my head. My ribs were in severe pains. For three weeks, I couldn’t go to the toilet,” he narrates.
The officer-in-charge, Chrissie Mwale, dutifully informed Zuwawo’s wife of the misfortune.
“When she saw the bloodstained uniform, she thought he had died,” recalls Mwale.
She reckons her staff easily fell prey to the rioters because they had only one car and lacked ammunition-rubber bullets and tear gas canisters.
Working in Malawi Police Service (MPS) for 33 years has taught Zuwawo that it is a job fraught with risks and constraints.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera concurs: “In the line of duty, officers have to endure attacks from the very people whom they serve. However, they don’t give up. They still work hard to protect lives and property despite having few resources at their disposal.”
He salutes men and women for the sacrifices they make “in the sun and in the rain, at night and during riots”.
“They work hard notwithstanding they are an endangered species. During riots, they become targets of angry people. Those with criminal intentions attack them during riots and night patrols. Unfortunately,
good people do not help. They just watch when officers come under attack,” explains Kadadzera.
But Zuwawo, still haunted by chest pains and battered ribs, urges the public to know the police are not their enemies.
As his retirement draws closer, he has no regrets—not even for stopping his workmate from opening fire on violent pupils in self-defence.
“The police are not public enemies, but protectors.”