Almost 30 kilometres across Lake Chilwa from Kachulu Port are three communities—Sombi, Ngotangota and Lungazi—that have never had a police unit nor security patrols for the past 53 years of Malawi Independence.
Thousands of Malawians in the far-flung fishing setting in Traditional Authority (T/A) Nkumbira, Zomba, want an end to the breakdown in law and order which keeps impoverishing them.
The shoreline population is sandwiched between the boundary of Malawi and Mozambique.
“The area has been hit hard by the absence of the police. Criminals have a licence to terrorise us. When they are caught, we are compelled to set them free because the victims cannot afford a boat to take the thugs to Kachulu Police Post,” bemoans Sobi resident Samson Maida.
When the locals capture suspected criminals at night, the casualty is forced to book a room at the nearest rest houses to act as a police cell until daybreak when they can ferry the detainee to Kachulu Police Post for trial. Some have to wait for days as the accuser searches for money to pay for the boat owners who reluctantly transport the detainees.
Currently, Maida described this as “a costly search for justice’ as return trip to the nearest police post costs K4 000 per person.
This means each victim needs no less than K7 000 as they have to pay K2 000 for the suspect’s transportation and K1 000 for the room.
“When we catch a dangerous criminal, we need two or three people to accompany the victim to Kachulu. All transport costs are supposed to be met by the victim. This is double tragedy and few people can afford these costs,” he said.
The burden is blamed for incidences of mob justice in the area as communities often take the law in their hands.
They clandestinely “sort out” the criminals on their way and leave them for dead.
To them, “sorting out criminals” means maiming or killing them regardless of the presumption of innocence until one is proven guilty by a competent court of law.
Amigo Chimbalanga, who owns a hardware and grocery shop in the area, said the persistent security lapse stifles the growth of businesses as entrepreneurs are weighed down by constant fear of being ambushed.
“I have big plans to boost my five-year-old business, but I cannot invest some more unless security improves,” he says.
The lingering uncertainty in the area long reduced to a no-man’s land has left businesses stunting.
“If my shop had blossomed, I would have been contributing to some community development,” he says
According to Nkumbira Area Development Committee (ADC) vice-chairperson Idrissa Kunsondo, the remote locality usually receives strange people with goods believed to have been stolen from elsewhere.
“We fail to confront them because we have nowhere to take them,” he says. “When we contact the police at Kachulu, it takes hours if not days for the law enforcers to come here. Sometimes, they don’t even come. They claim that they don’t have fuel for their speedboat.”
Zomba Police Station officer in-charge Hasten Mathanki acknowledged the security gaps facing the excluded area, saying the security agents seldom respond rapidly to the calls because the main engine of the speedboat is faulty.
Presently, the boat uses a 15-horsepower engine which takes almost four hours to propel the vessel to the cut-off communities.
“This drastically slows down our response to emergencies. Plans are underway to rehabilitate or replace the faulty engine,” he says.
Mariners prescribe a 85-horsepower engine for the boat to operate at its optimal speed—taking about one hour to cover the dreaded four-hour journey.
Zomba Chisi member of Parliament Mark Botoman decried decades of neglecting the deteriorating state of security in his constituency, saying a police unit is already under construction at Ngotangota which is in between Sombi and Lungazi.
“We are using Constituency Development Fund to ensure that Sombi and Lungazi residents no longer travel long distances seeking justice,” he said.
This offers hope to the community which has been under attack from both sides of the boundary, with some offenders fleeing to Mozambique on the western side of the lake.
As the police unit takes shape, Martha Suwedi, the Commissioner of Police in the Eastern Region, urges the public, investors, government agencies, the private sector and non-governmental organisations to assist the police in transporting building materials and other security props to the hard-to-reach areas. n