Pay ex-MYP members, victims of Operation Bwezani

I was deeply touched by an account of an ex-Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP) female member who claimed she was raped by seven men during a Malawi Army operation codenamed Operation Bwezani on December 3 1993 as she fled from her home in a remote northern part of the country. Operation Bwezani was a military assignment by members of the Malawi Army to disarm the Malawi Young Pioneers. While the military exercise had good intentions, albeit illegal, its results were catastrophic to many Malawians and will continue to haunt the country for the unforeseeable future.

The woman, who recently narrated her ordeal on a local TV station, claimed that from the incident she got two things she had all along most dreaded in her life: HIV and an unwanted pregnancy—in one pack. Thank God she is alive—and strong enough to tell her story—and so is the fruit of her womb from that unholy traumatic encounter with the seven men.

The woman—whose story could well be sugarcoated—could not help but shed a tear as she narrated her ordeal. She is one of the over 2 700 former MYP employees who are still battling to be paid their terminal benefits by government after the MYP was disbanded in 1993.

This week, a onetime human rights activist of note, Undule Mwakasungula, was quoted as saying the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and not the government should pay the terminal benefits to the members of the MYP. He is wrong. He has his facts completely upside down.

By virtue of Section 12A of the Young Pioneers Act (repealed in 1994) members of the Young Pioneers were public officers who until that time could be posted to other government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). And a few lucky ones were.

The ex-MYPs have been seeking their terminal benefits since 1995. They have however traversed a long and winding road strewn with thorns and pitfalls partly because of lack of political will and partly because Operation Bwezani indiscriminately shredded most records of the MYP.

As most ex-MYPs forcibly retired, some were paid their terminal dues while others were not. Of those who were paid some were overpaid. While others were grossly underpaid.

But the saddest aspect of Operation Bwezani is that while it was meant to disarm the MYP movement, it caught some innocent citizens in the cross fire. I am aware of one unsuspecting young man who was shot in the head through the left eye in Zingwangwa, Blantyre. He died a few weeks later. May his Soul Rest in peace.

There are several other people who had nothing to do with the MYP but were also caught in the cross fire. These unlucky citizens had their property and businesses worth millions of Kwacha attacked, looted and vandalised in the mistaken identity that the businesses and property belonged to or were part of the MYP. Many innocent citizens who were not members of the establishment but had their property and businesses damaged have been languishing in spite of assurances that they could be compensated.

Fast forward; following a petition to former president Bingu wa Mutharika in which the ex-MYPs were seeking payment of terminal benefits and compensation for loss of property during Operation Bwezani, government established a Task Force on dialogue. The late president also promised that government would pay the ex-MYP members K500 000 each. But after Bingu died, may his Soul Rest in Peace, nothing much happened.

On July 31 2017, the ex-MYP members gave government five days to pay them their dues and compensation or face unspecified action which they described as Plan B. This followed a meeting the ex-MYP members had with Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe on April 4 2017 where they were assured that their payment was being processed.

Again since then nothing much of note has happened leaving the ex-MYP members second guessing about to do next. They have resorted to camping at the Memorial Tower near Capital Hill in Lilongwe to pressure government to pay them their terminal benefits. Nothing has materialized yet but this time round the ex-MYPs seem determined to ensure justice is done.

It is against this daunting background that statements like Mwakasungula’s twisted by MBC can only be described as ill-conceited and retrogressive. They can only be the result of lopsided thinking premised on a debilitating deficit of the country’s history and motivated by emotions rather than logic. Ex-MYPs like the woman described above were State employees and it is only fair that government expedites paying their terminal benefits. Those who lost their property during Operation Bwezani also deserve to be compensated. Those who have records of the property that was damaged and can afford legal recourse they should do so. The bottomline is that justice must prevail.

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