One Friday in late December last year, Mozambican soldiers entered Lukono Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Makanjira in Mangochi brandishing guns. At that time, some villagers were in the mosque, praying.
When the locals asked them why they had come, they responded that they had come to protect their area. Since the border re-affirmation between Malawi and Mozambique in 2008, Lukono, previously a village in Malawi, found itself on the Mozambican side together with 13 other villages.
The people of Lukono have a market on Friday and it ended abruptly at the sight of the ‘intruders’. “Even the prayers were concluded quickly as the worshippers were gripped by fear,” narrates a young man Ahmad Ali.
That night the villagers did not sleep. They kept wondering about what fate was going to befall them under the cover of darkness.
“It was the longest night in my life. I refused to eat. For the first time, home felt like a waiting room for the gallows,” recalls Ali.
Since then, the 14 villages have known no peace as sporadic clashes between them and their neigbours have been reported.
The officers from Mozambique used to come regularly to the villages, in the process instilling fear into the people.
Just last December, a man called Saduku Mpalume was shot dead by Mozambican police officers when a quarrel broke between a man from Che Chala in Mozambique and young men from Malamia and Lukono villages.
The conflict took place at Makuta on the banks of Mpamba River which the villagers claim is on the Malawian side, but their neigbours say it is in Mozambican territory.
According to Yusuf Hashimi, the Malawian youths were eating mangoes from trees on the river bank. Then a boy from Che Chala, who was also eating mangoes, picked a quarrel with his friends.
“Then the boy went to a police station at Che Chala and told them a ‘lie’ that some Malawians had beaten him up. The police came and there was a commotion,” recounts Hashimi.
Another villager, Cassim Twaibu from Malamia, says the police fired bullets to scare Malawians to leave the place as it did not belong to them.
“It was in the shooting madness that Mpalume was shot. It was like hell itself had descended on us,” says Twaibu.
Such is how sour the relationship between the neighbours who once lived peacefully has become. Now they no longer drink from the same well.
“These people are saying all the bushes, rivers, hills and trees belong to them,” says Sayiwala Palasa, 69.
In this situation, it becomes dangerous to go and get grass from the bushes to thatch their houses. Women too, have to be careful when going to draw water from the rivers.
When the incident happened, Makanjira police became inactive as the villages are deemed to fall outside their jurisdiction.
The station’s officer in-charge Inspector Frank Matiki says the villages are facing security challenges with Mozambican security officers.
“When the Mozambican police shot a Malawian dead, we were barred from the area as it now falls into Mozambican sphere of influence,” he says.
Mangochi North parliamentarian Benedicto Chambo is worried about the security of Malawians in the villages he claims to be in his constituency.
“I often go to these villages to offer moral support because no matter what, these people are Malawians and they are living in fear,” he explains.
The villagers are waiting for the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Planning who promised to come to iron out the border issue.
But in the interim, the ministry sent Police Mobile Service (PMS)officers to patrol the villages. They have been there since January this year.
“PMS came this January when I complained to Anna Kachikho [Minister of Lands] after meeting her in Lilongwe,” Hashimi says.
But village head Balakasi blames the PMS for camping at Luweza instead of Lukono, the ‘former’ boundary.
“Let our forces go to Lukono and not at Luweza as they have left us farther behind and exposed. We request more forces from Malawi Government,” he says.
According to Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development spokesperson Charles Vintulla, government is waiting for the rainy season to come to an end to go to Makanjira with Mozambican delegates to address this issue.
“After the rains, we intend to inspect those beacons with a joint surveyors’ team of Malawians and Mozambicans, including local leaders along the border to establish and concretise the truth,” he says.
Until then, the 14 villages still have to live in a place dubbed ‘no man’s land’ where fear of death abounds more than the hope of a brighter future in a country they are struggling to accept as their own. n