When Nelson Banda, 31, left Mangochi for South Africa for greener pastures in 2021, his 24-year-old wife Glory and seven-year-old daughter Chrissy, expected to live a decent life back home.
“My husband left for South Africa in search of life-changing opportunities because kabaza business here in Mangochi had been flooded, and it was proving difficult for us to survive from that business,” says Glory.
“However, after staying in South Africa for only a year, we suddenly realised that Nelson no longer called as frequently as he used to do. Startled by the failure to reach him on the phone, I one day I called one of his friends who had been staying with him, but he told me Nelson had not been home for a week,” explained the wife.
According to her, Nelson’s friends tried to search for him by inquiring from his workplace in Johannesburg but his employers told them that they were not aware of his whereabouts since knocking off the previous Friday, and that they were equally surprised that he had not reported for work after the weekend.
She said it was after the friends had gone to one of the Police stations that an officer informed them that they had taken to a mortuary a body they had found in the streets.
“The officer, however, said they had found a Malawi national ID in the pockets which identified the dead as my husband. That’s when they informed us of his death,” she said.
Glory said despite the death of her husband, they were relieved that at least his body was discovered and identified easily because of the national ID he had.
Ephraim Kondowe of Jenda in Mzimba said a national ID has made access to social cash transfer funds easy.
“There was a time we used to struggle to receive social cash transfer funds in the absence of an ID because identification was a problem. But now it is easy. You just have to present your national ID,” Banda said.
Apart from being used to identify, a national ID has become more handy when accessing most social and economic services in Malawi.
“The national ID is useful in busting ghost workers, and even identifying foreigners. That’s why it is important for every citizen to register and have one,” Minister of Homeland Security Ken Zikhale- Ng’oma says.
Today, across the nation, there is a palpable urgency for people to possess a national ID that there has even been an outcry from some applicants that the National Registration Bureau (NRB) is failing to process their documents in time.
But this is unprecedented.
When government rolled out the mass ID registration in 2017, many were sceptical of the reasons behind possessing one. Many linked possessing an ID to Satanism and other reasons “best known to government”.
However, of late, with mass civic education campaigns the perception has changed and more and more Malawians are eager to have the identification document.
To date, according to Principal Secretary for National Registration Bureau Mphatso Sambo, over 10.5 million Malawians have been issued with the document.
In a recent interview, Sambo said many Malawians have applied for national IDs because they have realised that it offers them multiple benefits.
And, speaking during this year’s joint commemoration of Africa Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) and International Identity Day held at Kamarambo Primary school at Jenda Trading Centre in Mzimba recently, Zikhale-Ng’oma said it is easier for a citizen to be identified when they possess an ID.
“National ID has several advantages and one of them is identification of a citizen as a national of a particular country. In Malawi, the advantages will also transcend to easy disposal of cases involving chieftaincy wrangles which have become common of late,” he said.
In Malawi, deaths of chiefs have led to a flurry of succession wrangles.
“These documents have particulars of citizens and one can use them in court to defend (ownership) of the land which he or she has inherited,” Ng’oma said.
He, therefore, called on Malawians to take advantage of the removal of fees for acquiring national IDs to go and register for one.
“For example, birth certificate and national ID contain a valid date on which one was born, which means if chieftaincy is inherited based on who is older in a particular family, it is easier to identity rightful heir to the throne,” he explained.
Even chiefs have joined calls for people to register for national IDs, saying possessing one is important for identification.
Sub-Traditional Authority Chiputula Nhlane of Jenda admitted that chieftaincy wrangles are common in Malawi as a result of absence of proper identification documents that would otherwise give credence to a rightful heir.
“This is why I encourage my people to get birth certificates and all other documents for them to safeguard their chieftaincy and land,” said Nhlane during the commemorations of the international identity card in Mzimba.
However, while most Malawians are recognising the need to have the national ID they feel delays in producing them are worrying.
“I have been coming to Mzimba NRB offices to look for my ID but I am told they are yet to be printed. They just change dates as to when we would collect them,” complained one applicant who applied for one nine months ago.
Zikhale-Ng’oma said government acknowledges that there have been problems in issuing national IDs due to, among other factors, lack of equipment and personnel.
“This is why government recently provided K3.5 billion to NRB to ensure that it operates efficiently and effectively,” he said.
The Minister has, therefore, called upon Malawians to register for national ID and has asked expectant women to ensure that they deliver at a hospital so that their babies should be registered and given birth certificates.
He also said it is important to register deaths because, among others, it helps in disbursement of diseased estate.
Sambo admitted challenges, but said the bureau is doing everything possible end problems associated with issuance of national IDs.
“We have had a backlog of unprinted IDs due to the fact that most IDs expired at the same time in 2021. We also had old equipment,” Sambo said. He, however, said with the recent funding from government they have managed to procure 20 printing machines which have already been delivered by the suppliers and he believes production of IDs will be expedited.