- No end in sight for Stambuli, Makhumula cases
- Chasowa, other probes at snail’s pace
A respected economist, Precious Kalonga Stambuli, with the whole future ahead of him had his life abruptly cut short—at the age of 42—more than 10 years ago. There are no answers yet to questions about how he died.
The family of flamboyant tycoon-cum-politician James Makhumula and Malawians in general are also living with the mystery surrounding his death at his Mapanga Residence in Blantyre on September 3 2005.
And what happened to the case of the fourth-year Polytechnic student Robert Chasowa, who was found dead at the college’s campus in Blantyre on September 24 2011?
These, and host of other cases, including the July 20 killings, where some anti-government protesters against economic hardship during the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration were killed, seem hopeless.
But relatives, friends and Malawians in general are still eager to know what really happened to these people, who were not mere statistics, but fellow human beings.
Equally concerned about the delays to know about what some believe were politically motivated deaths include the Malawi Law Society (MLS), Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) and Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR).
MLS, in a response to a questionnaire when asked about the delays, said it was important that criminal matters are dealt with as expeditiously as is both reasonable and practicable.
MLS secretary Khumbo Soko feared that delays can cause irreversible justice.
Soko said: “Witnesses may forget what happened or may indeed die. It’s also important to deal with these cases definitively to give the family of the victims a sense of closure.
“Like in all matters where the public has an interest, the State owes the country an explanation as to what is happening [in a particular case].”
The lawyers’ body said it understood that as they say, ‘hurried justice is buried justice’, criminal matters are relatively difficult to prosecute as the bar that the prosecution has to clear before securing a conviction is rather high.
“But I am not saying that the Chasowa case [or any other] is a hopeless one. The learned DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] is the one who has to make that call. All I am saying is that she should only take the matter to court if she has reasonable prospects of success,” Soko said.
He said the justification for delay in the Chasowa case would depend on what is happening behind the scenes, adding that the lawyers’ body, unfortunately, did not have information if the investigation is still active or not.
Soko said MLS would also have commented competently in the Stambuli Commission of Inquiry if it were privy to the terms of reference or whether the commission lapsed or not.
The law society said it also needed more factual background on the Makhumula case for it to comment on the matter competently with specifics.
He, however, said it is important that the matters be dispatched with such reasonable and practical expedition as the circumstances of the process will admit.
MHRC, in its latest report on human rights, criticised the State for the delays in prosecuting suspects in the Chasowa murder case and the July 20 killings.
A postmortem report revealed that Stambuli did not die a natural death, but rather strangulation and poisoning led to his untimely death.
Former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika appointed a commission of inquiry on August 28 2008 led by prominent lawyer Modecai Msisha. Some people, including mother to the late Stambuli, testified before it.
But the last time Malawians heard about that commission of inquiry was in September 2010 when secretary of that Commission Bruno Kalemba said the proceedings would not continue because one of the commissioners, the reverend Constantine Kaswaya, who was unwell, was then fine.
Years later, there is no sign of life in the commission, which is almost forgotten and Stambuli’s family remains in dark as to what happened to their son.
In Makhulmula’s case, some of his children believe he did not kill himself with the gun said to have been found by his body on that fateful September 3 2005, hence, their eagerness on the results of the inquest instituted during Bingu’s reign.
The last time Malawians heard about Makhumula’s inquest was when lawyer for his children, Ambokire Salimu, obtained a court order compelling a coroner, magistrate Innocent Nebi, to speed up the matter.
The High Court also ordered the DPP—whose office was failing to pay pathologists to complete the compilation of the forensic evidence and take a blood sample to South Africa—to provide the finances.
Both the Stambuli and Makhumula cases were being pursued under Bingu’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regime and at some point, the United Democratic Front (UDF), which was in power when Stambuli died, suspected that DPP was out to get to its leadership when the Stambuli inquiry was under way.
A commission of inquiry former president Joyce Banda appointed after she ascended to power in line with constitutional order on April 7 2012 after the death of president Bingu, laid it bare that Chasowa, who was involved in political activism and critical to Bingu’s administration, was murdered.
Banda’s administration arrested some officials in DPP top-tier, but they are on bail and the matter, with DPP back in power, does not seem to make any headway, prompting some human rights activists to believe that delays in pursuing such matters are politically motivated.
Police told The Nation in February 2013 that it had opened fresh investigations into the Chasowa murder case. In November the same year, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs said investigations into the Chasowa matter would take time before the case is taken to court, and today—more than two years later—the nation is yet to hear what remains of the Chasowa murder case.
According to court records, in 2013, it was made known that the court returned K200 000 cash sureties to some suspects in the Chasowa murder case, which created an impression that the case was discontinued, but Ministry of Justice spokesperson Apoche Itimu dismissed suggestions that the case was discontinued, arguing that investigations were in final stages.
Itimu kept assuring to respond to a questionnaire sent to her last week, in which Nation on Sunday sought explanations on the delays the cited cases are facing, and if at all there was any hope of having them concluded, but she did not respond until press time.
CHRR executive director Timothy Mtambo said in an interview on Wednesday that delays in pursuing cases where the nation has interest send bad signals and may create room for speculation that “it’s nothing but politics at play”.
He said such tendencies by government offices entrusted with responsibilities to help carry out justice do not give confidence in Malawians to trust the system and was “a cause for a big concern”.
Mtambo said his organisation would see to it that justice is done in all matters others may wish suppressed.