Forty-six years might have passed, yet Matilda Kakhobwe vividly remembers the torture and humiliation her family endured under the Malawi Congress Party’s (MCP) dictatorial regime.
Their sin was their affiliation to the Jehovah’s Witness, a religious grouping which former president Hastings Kamuzu Banda persecuted for refusing to vote and buy party cards.
In one of his recorded speeches, Banda branded them as “stupid.”
“MCP agents used to pick us from our house in Chilomoni, Blantyre, made us walk long distances on foot and beat us. This used to happen when I was heavily pregnant.
“The worst happened in 1976 when they told us to leave our house. They beat us again. My husband fled to Zimbabwe while I took our six children to our village in Ntcheu,” recalls Kakhobwe.
The 78-year-old, who now resides in Dambule One Village, Traditional Authority Phambala in Ntcheu, says she never met again her now deceased husband nor recovered the house and plot.
“My husband used to work for Blantyre
Printing and Publishing Company so we were living comfortably. After we lost everything, we drifted into poverty and I did not have resources to educate our children,” she adds.
Kakhobwe, like hundreds others who were victimised under the one-party State, has not received any compensation and, by extension, have now been given a chance to express their grievances, know the truth and reconcile with their bitter past.
President Lazarus Chakwera in his State of the Nation Address delivered in September 2020, promised to constitute a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to handle complaints about his party’s past human rights abuses.
Months down the line, the promise remains a pipe dream, according to the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR).
The centre’s executive director Michael Kaiyatsa explained that they have documented over 200 complaints from people who claim they lost property.
He said most had contacted CHRR to express joy over the President’s promise to launch a commission.
“A majority of them are losing hope because government is silent on that. What government has been saying is that there is no legal framework to enable government to pay these people. So, they said they would draft a Bill which will have the component of the compensation.
“We have been following up on the issue until last year when we were told by the Ministry of National Unity that the compensation aspect has been removed, saying government will make different arrangements which he didn’t specify,” Kaiyatsa said.
Meanwhile, the Minister of National Unity Timothy Mtambo in an interview last Friday said they have drafted a Bill to pave for the formation of a commission that will champion reconciliation.
“The Bill has been adopted by Cabinet and is awaiting tabling during this sitting of Parliament. Once enacted into law the Bill will facilitate establishment of an institutional framework for peace-building and conflict transformation, including the establishment of the Malawi Peace and Unity Commission as an umbrella body for peace-building and conflict transformation,” he said.
Mtambo further pointed that government has taken an initiative to honour those that were killed in the past regimes as part of the healing process.
“In this regard, the ministry, in the 2021/2022 financial year, started the process of procurement of a contractor for construction of the late Dr. Orton Chirwa mausoleum was finalised…This is the first, among many other heroes that will be honoured,” he said.
Chirwa, who was among MCP founders and a former Cabinet minister, was killed while serving a sentence for alleged politically motivated treason.
Church and Society executive director Moses Mkandawire said what has been holding back government’s from compensating the victims is political will and greed and not the legal instruments.
“We had legal provisions which led to the formation of the National Compensation Tribunal in 1994. But you would see that only a few benefited. If there was political will all the aggrieved would have been paid and reconciliation achieved.
When the United Democratic Front took over government following democratic elections in 1994, it formed a National Compensation Tribunal (NTC) to pay off victims of the 30-year-old one party regime.
However, the Ombudsman’s report released in 2017 revealed that politicians abused the tribunal by influencing prioritisation and payments to politically-connected individuals at the expense of thousands of victims.
Titled Malawi’s Unhealed Wounds, the report ordered government to, within three months, settle about 15 000 of claims unsettled by the NCT which was shut down in 2006. Government did not submit to the order.
Malawi Law Society honorary secretary Chrispin Ngunde said compensating victims of the dictatorial regime did not require new legislation as the Ombudsman already made a determination on the matter.
“In our view that does not require government to wait for the enactment of a new law to govern the payments. The determination of the Ombudsman is the legal basis for the payments.
“In terms of the Ombudsman’s order what was required was for the Government to initiate a negotiated settlement to enable Government to know how much would be payable to each victim. The negotiations would have enabled the parties to reach a compromise.
“We note that the determination of the Ombudsman set a time frame within which her decision was to be complied with failure of which she would make further directives. The decisions of the Ombudsman are final unless dealt with otherwise by the Court under section 123(2) of the Constitution,” he said.n