Chinese national Lu Ke, popularly known as Susu, to run child involvement initiatives with children in Njewa area outside Lilongwe city, Weekend Nation can reveal.
Our findings show that officials at the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare and the Lilongwe District Council (DC) Social Welfare Office cleared the Chinese national to operate the initiatives where he ended up shooting degrading videos of children dancing, singing and parroting Chinese words.
In an exclusive interview with Weekend Nation this week, village head Nyambo from Njewa area said that Susu was given the greenlight to work in his area for five years following a series of meetings held at the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare and the Lilongwe District Council (DC) Social Welfare offices, which Susu attended.
Said Nyambo: “My concern was that Susu had no interpreter and that it was going to be difficult to communicate with the children. He was told to start doing the activities in the afternoon after the children have come back from school.”
The revelations contradict government’s earlier position as officials feigned ignorance on activities of the Chinese national currently being hunted by police for filming degrading videos with the underage children.
But Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare deputy director for Child Affairs Justin Hamela, while admitting that Susu sought clearance from the ministry, said what he ended up doing was contrary to what was expected of him.
Hamela said the ministry will first have to search for a file for Susu to know the intent of his application.
He also could not single out the officials at the ministry who processed the paper work for Susu to start engaging the children.
Said Hamela: “What the Chinese national was doing is contrary to provisions of the convention on the rights of children and the country’s Constitution and policies.
“There is nothing in our early child development policy that says we should promote culture from China or something like it.”
Centre for Human Right and Rehabilitation (CHRR) executive director Michael Kaiyatsa, in an interview, said it was shocking to hear that government was behind the clearance and has demanded that all officials responsible should be held to account for failing in their duties.
Said Kaiyatsa: “It’s even more shocking that government was feigning ignorance on this issue.”
The video was exposed in a documentary broadcast on BBC African Eye investigation programme in which BBC journalist Runako Celina and Malawian journalist Henry Mhango found that Lu was shooting 380 videos a day earning him about K77 million but was paying the children less than $1.
One of the videos depicts children standing behind a placard bearing Chinese phrases and singing. Translated in English, the phrase reads: “I am a black monster! My IQ is low”.
The village head also narrated that at another meeting at the DC’s office, officers from the welfare office vouched for the fugitive and promised to monitor his activities at Njewa regularly.
According to the village head, officers from the DC’s office visited his area at least twice and also interacted with the children and Susu.
In a telephone interview on Thursday, Lilongwe district social welfare officer (DSWO) Jean Nthengwe indicated that her office first got to know about Susu’s activities from the ministry following concerns that he was interacting with the children during school hours. But she could not recall the exact year when this happened.
Nthengwe said her office was then tasked to follow up on the concerns and put a stop to it as it was affecting children’s education.
Said Nthengwe: “Our officers visited the area twice in the morning, around 9am to 11am, but on both occasions they did not find Susu but only the children and the village head.
She also said she was not available on the two occasions when Susu held meetings with officers at the DC’s office.
According to procedure, every organisation or individual implementing programmes in communities signs a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the council but Nthengwe said no such MoU was signed with Susu.
When asked about the MoU, Hamela said everyone is free to complement government’s efforts to promote child development and other issues as long as they follow policies and principles of what government endorses, adding that it is the responsibility of the council to monitor what happens in terms of implementation.
When we visited Njewa on Wednesday and Thursday, we found children loitering in Nyambo Village and some mothers of the children told Weekend Nation that the absence of the Chinese national was very loud in the village.
One of the women, Hailey Nyambo, said they are bitter and feel betrayed that Susu was exploiting and abusing the children while enriching himself.
She said: “Sending him to jail is one thing but our demand is that as parents, we need to be compensated for what happened to our children.”
Njewa Primary School head teacher Allan Magwaza said the school was aware of the activities by Susu but did not know that the children were being abused due to language barrier.
He further said some little children would miss classes on some days because of excitement to attend the dances and singing as well as the money they were pocketing every day.
The Chinese Embassy in Lilongwe, in a statement published this week, condemned the video and pledged to assist in ensuring that the matter is properly addressed.
Susu was last seen in the village on Friday last week, according to children we spoke to, and that he bid farewell to them, saying he was going for a holiday in China but that he would come back.
Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services spokesperson Wellington Chiponde in an interview said his office was yet to establish Lu’s permit status.
But he said it was difficult to do that without checking the person’s particulars in his or her passport which they don’t have.
Meanwhile, speaking at a presser in Lilongwe yesterday, the Centre for Democracy and Economic Development (Cdedi) urged authorities to treat the matter with the seriousness and urgency it deserve, primarily, giving the Malawi Government seven days to bring Lu to book.
“Since the matter also borders on aspects of profit-making, Cdedi is urging relevant authorities to ensure that survivors of the exploitative filming should benefit by way of compensation,” Cdedi excutive director Sylvester Namiwa said.