He has fought nerve-wracking battles, faced and escaped death more than once. This is the untold story of one game ranger Kondwani Humphreys Wisiki.
His passion for natural conservation has brought him close to death at least three times.
“At Liwonde National Park, I survived a three-to-one battle against poachers who were armed with spears,” explains Wisiki who now works as assistant parks and wildlife officer at Michiru Nature Sanctuary in Blantyre.
The 40-year-old game ranger was also once saved by a fellow ranger from a crocodile attack after he pursued and arrested a poacher in the Shire River.
The two incidents at Liwonde National Park left psychological and physical effects on Wisiki. But, perhaps it is his first battle on October 20 2002 at Nkhotakota Game Reserve that left him more bruised than ever.
On this day, Wisiki was attacked by a member of the big five family; the legendary king of the jungle himself: the lion.
Sixteen years have passed since that phenomenal incident but Wisiki recalls the episode and tells it with emotion, thereby keeping listeners on the edge of their seats.
He was 24 then, a fresh graduate from Liwonde National Park and was deployed to Nkhotakota Game Reserve with other scouts in June 2002.
By then, the Kasungu-Nkhotakota Road was under construction and Wisiki, together with a fellow graduate, Paulosi Mwase, were tasked to provide security to the construction company’s staff and their equipment.
One day, the two got a request to guard some women whose vehicle had broken down in the reserve.
It was on their way back to the camp that Wisiki met the king of the jungle.
He heard a loud wheezing sound behind him and before he could turn, he was hit hard on the back with unimaginable force and fell to the ground with a thud.
“My body was trapped underneath whatever had hit me and I instinctively hunched my shoulders and dropped my head onto the ground,” explains Wisiki.
“Then I gripped with all my might what felt like legs of an animal on my shoulders and the wrestling began.”
At this stage of the story, it is Wisiki’s fellow ranger, Mwase, who explains vividly what he saw and how he handled the situation.
“I heard the sound of his fall and it all happened within seconds,” says Mwase whom this reporter traced to Lake Malawi National Park where he is working.
“I turned and I saw a lion on top and Wisiki trapped underneath, his rifle clutched under his belly. I quickly reached for my rifle and tried to shoot but it jammed after a bullet got stuck in the chamber.”
Common sense quickly commanded Mwase to use the butt of his gun and hit the lion hard on the head repeatedly.
He recalls the lion and Wisiki rolling more than once but every roll, ended with the two in the same position: the beast on top and Wisiki underneath.
“I hit the animal again and it sprung free and dashed into a cliff nearby,” continues Mwase, adding: “I took Wisiki’s rifle and fired towards the direction the lion had gone.”
Turning to Wisiki, Mwase realised his colleague had sustained a long cut in the face, ran from one cheek round the top of the head to the other cheek, leaving the skin and the scalp loose.
“His clothes were torn and soaked in blood. I tried to provide first aid by attempting to patch back the loose fresh on his head. I tore my uniform and used it as a bandage before I called for help,” explains Mwase with a heavy heart.
Wisiki was rushed to Ntchisi District Hospital where he spent about two weeks. He was then referred to Kamuzu Central Hospital where he stayed for some months before he was discharged, narrated Mwase.
When he felt better, Wisiki was advised to proceed on leave, but he insisted on field work.
His work has taken him to Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary, Lake Malawi, Liwonde and Lengwe national parks before moving to Michiru Nature Sanctuary where much of his work now is on environmental education.
Wisiki is a respected ranger among colleagues he has worked with.
“He is very brave, always ready to take risks where wildlife is threatened,” says Twambilire Chimimba, who once worked with him at Liwonde National Park.
Chimimba is the one who shot the crocodile that almost killed him when he pursued a poacher into the Shire River.
“It was a huge crocodile, I shot it when its yawning jaws were less than an inch away from Wisiki as he dragged the poacher to the shore,” adds Chimimba, who now works for Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve in Nsanje.
Aaron Kisindile and Martin Awazi are two of Wisiki’s former colleagues now working at Vwaza Wildlife Reserve in Rumphi and Majete Game Reserve in Chikwawa, respectively.
The two were also part of the patrol team when Wisiki was nearly killed by poachers at Liwonde National Park.
The Michiru Nature Sanctuary game ranger has often been at the centre of deadly situations in the line of his duty.
In June 2005, he was also part of the team of game rangers and police that hunted and killed the most infamous ‘Dedza Beast’, a wild animal that had killed nine people and injured 13 at Kanjerwa Village in Traditional Authority Chilikumwendo in the district.
Wisiki’s commitment and dedication to his work does not go unnoticed by his employer and superiors.
“I have known Wisiki for a long time and we recognise his services and dedication to work,” says Bright Kumchedwa, director of parks and wildlife in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining.
“As government, we have been motivating him through promotions to senior positions and we also sent him to South Africa Wild Life College for further studies,” he says.
But at 40, married and father to a six-year-old child, Wisiki is still battling with the physical and emotional pain from the deadly encounter with the lion more than 15 years ago.
“All I have longed for is a plastic surgery just to have my mouth in place and possibly get my left eye functioning normally,” he says with a tearful look in his eyes. “I notice how people always avoid looking at me in the face and I find this very disturbing.”
Another challenge is that the deep scars the lion left on his face periodically grow like wattles when they are exposed to the sun’s heat. He has had to get them surgically removed every now and then.
Wisiki, who hails from Malonje Village, T/A Malemia in Zomba, says he has three worst enemies, but the lion and the crocodile are not among them.
He abhors poachers, game rangers who connive with poachers to kill animals, and everyone who threatens nature and the environment.
“I can shed more blood than I already have to protect nature from these sworn enemies,” says Wisiki.
The long road to equality
Progress is the theme for the 2018 International Women’s Day, which will be commemorated on March 8. It is exciting to once again commemorate and celebrate women and women achievements. Of course, the commemoration of International Women’s Day is also used as an advocacy platform—to advocate for change in issues, situations, systems and structures that hinder women’s advancement in our society.
It is urgent, there is need to press for progress towards equality—equality in opportunities, dignity and justice.
The challenges that stand in the way of progress for women are way too many. Most of the obstacles hindering progress for women are rooted in social stereotypes that are constructed in our minds and passed on to the social environment through communication. Once internalised, these become realities that bar women from enjoying equality.
The realities create a glass ceiling made of a plethora of barriers hindering women from rising beyond what the society expects of them. The glass ceiling stifles women’s efforts to rise in self-advancement as well as rising to positions of influence.
It is tempting to suggest that women should just ignore the negative rhetoric and move forward. The challenge remains that the negative rhetoric is the very fabric that creates the glass ceiling for women’s progress. Again, the glass ceiling is in most cases invisible to onlookers and only felt by the one person trying to break through it. This creates a situation whereby unless one has experienced it before, they do not understand it, neither do they appreciate it. Women are then seen to be crying for no reason because what is biting is in their shoes and no one else can see it.
It is important to note that there has been some progress both in southern Africa and the world over. We can attest to many women featuring in powerful positions. Panos Institute Southern Africa has profiled some of them through various media platforms. However, the glass ceiling still exists. Those who have risen to powerful positions have had to fight their way through, got bruised, hurt, rejected and injured along the way. But with resilience, they have succeeded. We celebrate those women, who at various levels have crashed the glass ceiling and made it in life. They have given hope and power to other women, including young girls, who aspire to reach where they have reached and beyond.
The story does not end there. There is an equally important need to focus attention on the next step—making it easier for more women to get to the top. Women should not have to work three times as hard and prove that they are superhuman for them to be trusted to hold positions of influence.
Even with the crashing of the glass ceiling, women who find themselves up there receive less recognition and commendation than their male counterparts. There is the ongoing debate about equal pay for equal work. Women are generally perceived to be cheaper labour, and less valued for the same amount of work. In some circumstances, women have been told to just be grateful for what they have, like they do not deserve it, like it is an out-of-this-world favour. This attitude, which is seen from both men and women, is one of the many negative forces that are pulling women downwards and reinforcing the glass ceiling.
Expectations from women leaders are much higher and when they experience challenges, they are judged more harshly than their male counterparts. In her prime, Dolly Parton played a song titled: My mistakes are no worse than yours just because am a woman.
We see on social media, mainstream media in talks shows, news and features women’s capabilities being questioned because of one misstep in their personal life. In some cases, it is not even a misstep – it is a deliberate twisting of facts in efforts to put dirty on shining and upcoming women.
This is injustice that should be acknowledged and addressed on the way towards equality. Equality for women is in the long run good for both men and women’s advancement. The road to equality is long, it has many obstacles, but we must walk it together as we #PressforProgress.