Group Village Head Chonde in Mulanje has stirred controversy in her area after instituting a by-law requiring every subject to identify themselves with a religious group or risk a fine of a live chicken.
The by-law further penalises non-believing bereaved families as they are forced to pay a fine before burying their dead.
Chonde told Nation on Sunday that she came up with the statute to create a God-fearing citizenry, which she hoped would minimise criminal activities among her subjects.
But some of her subjects are questioning the basis of the by-law, arguing it is a violation of people’s rights. They described the chief’s action as daylight robbery and called on government to intervene.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a male subject said what Chonde has done is against the spirit of the Republican Constitution, which guarantees freedom to choose to believe or not.
“Why should I pay her a fine for choosing atheism? Should I be forced to believe deities to evade these fines?” he said.
An elderly woman accused Chonde of taking away their freedom and rights through what she described as ‘baseless by-laws’.
“What’s happening here is very strange. I’ve never heard it since I was born. But what I don’t understand is why government allows this to happen,” she queried.
But Chonde defended her move that it was aimed at protecting the welfare of her subjects. She boasted that since the introduction of the law, morals have significantly improved and people were becoming more responsible for their families than in the past when they spent most of their time and money on beer.
“I just want to bring sanity among my subjects and not swindle them. I was very concerned that many people in my area did not fear God and this bred strings of social and economic crises in families,” said Chonde.
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Maganizo Mazeze, while admitting that the move was illegal, said he was not aware. He promised that the ministry would investigate.