Harlod Moya, Moffat George and Thauzeni Masula had no idea the day would end in a tragedy.
A person-of-good-will came panting. He warned that a mob was coming to attack the three.
“I just got surprised with the mob that descended on the place where we were. They surrounded the place and mounted a barricade in a manner that clearly showed a plan to attack. They called me and Thauzeni aside and told us they wanted to take us to police to explain how we last chatted with Jekapu,” said Moya
Suddenly, the three men were murder suspects. They were accused of killing Jekapu Gwaza.
There was no time to reason with anyone. They just had to flee. Their attackers were here.
While Harlod Moya and Moffat George managed to escape, Thauzeni Masula was unfortunate.
He was cornered, mobbed and stoned to death for the alleged murder of his childhood friend Jekapu.
Before disappearing, Gwaza was seen with Moya, George and Thauzeni.
This is Kunthama village in the area of Traditional Authority Masula in Lilongwe, Nkhoma.
Mkangali also known as Chizangala is a traditional-dance-festival for the majority Chewa.
It is October 15th 2020. And the village is in a jovial mood. It is a traditional-dance-festival day.
In the crowd that gathered watching the dances were Moya, George, Masula and Gwaza; Gwaza was well known because he was always selling fritters.
And this was the day Gwaza vanished into thin air.
While everyone had thought Gwaza had cycled back to Chezi where he was employed, the following day, his red cooler box was where he was last seen. A seven-day search yielded nothing; then the village conspiracy theories began; who was Gwaza last seen with?
So, nights went and mornings came.
That was the genesis of suspicion that Moya, George and Masula had information about the whereabouts of Gwaza. And when seven days passed without indication of his whereabouts, suspicion grew that he may have been murdered. The trio became suspects
And so, after the mob-justice-cold-blooded-murder of suspect Masula, Moya handed himself to police October 19th while George was arrested by police October 29th in 2020.
The two recount torturous experiences while in police custody. And thinking he would escape police verbal abuse, beatings, and torture, Moya confessed to killing Gwaza.
But he had already been maimed and disfigured during the 14 of police incarceration. He alleges that police investigators at Nathenje police used slashers to whip them. At times, pressing iron.
The police tried in vain to locate the body of Gwaza whom they had presumed killed.
“They had to beat me using the side of pangas and some steel bars at my back and almost every body part. They further used pressing iron, very hot to force me accept the charge. That happened for five days while in police custody. I saw my life slowly varnishing I thought I could die in custody, having heard the stories of people that died while in custody. I had to confess that I indeed had a hand in killing Jekapu so that they would stop torturing me. They indeed stopped,” narrated Moya who has vivid scars from his experience
His sentiments are buttressed by George
“They used some steel bars and cornered me in a room to beat me. They did that for some days in their effort to force me accept that I indeed killed Jekapu,” said George.
Moya and George appeared before Nathenje Magistrate’s Court on 5th November, 2020. Their case was committed to the High Court where murder cases are tried in Malawi.
Meanwhile, the two suspects were remanded at Maula Prison in Lilongwe. When the High Court granted the two bail, they remained in custody for failure to produce sureties.
“There were efforts to change the charge against us from murder to robbery while in custody,” said George.
“We were told that our case needed to be committed to High Court since it was a murder case and at that time the only place for us was Maula Prison where we would be on remand,” said Moya.
Prior to the arrest, Moya and George were bicycle taxi operators. Actually, George operates his bicycle taxi business in Area 49 and was in that village by sheer coincidence. He was there for the installation of his brother as a chief in the area.
The two come from Katengeni village in the area of TA Mazengere in Lilongwe.
Of course, it is not unexpected that police will distance themselves from allegations of torture of suspects in their custody.
However, spokesperson for Lilongwe police, Hastings Chigalu, admits police took Moya to places hoping he would reveal where he had buried Gwaza.
“We expected that the two would value the role the police did in handling this case professionally. It was the members of the community that bayed for their blood. They arrested them and wanted to deal with them. We rescued them and braved the hostile environment that was in the community,” said Chigalu
The irony of the ordeal erupted a year and a half while the two were in Maula on remand.
Gwaza reappeared. He had written to his mother informing her he was in Mozambique.
Nasiwachi Kadzakumanja, mother to Jekapu Gwaza, says the family had mourned the young boy.
“I received a letter. Since I do not know how to read and write, I waited for my husband to read it for me. It read, I am Jekapu. I am alive and in Mozambique. I may not come back home having heard of the property that got damaged when I left,” said Kadzakumanja.
When she informed the families of the accused, they set out to physically verify the development.
And there was Gwaza! Alive and kicking. He lives in Kolowa Village in Makanga District in Mozambique.
Father to Moffat George, Kandamwala Katchika, says a delegation of six; three from each family had gone on this mission.
“A team was set out to physically confirm if Jekapu is indeed alive. I first enquired from his relatives that went to Mozambique to physically confirm if he is alive. They confirmed he is alive and in good health,” said Katchika.
Fostina Kadzakumanja is an aunt to Jekapu Gwaza. She was also on the delegation.
“We travelled for almost the whole day to get to the place where Jekapu is. We found him working. He is employed at a certain maize meal. He stopped the engine and attended to us. He was in good health,” said Kadzakumanja.
And so too was Mazoni Mandalasi, brother to George.
“We found him. We greeted him and told him that people think he is dead. We told him we came because of the letter that he wrote confirming that he is alive. He said he could not come because he heard that when he left a lot happened,” said Mandalasi.
The events following the disappearance of Jekapu Gwaza have inflicted physical and psychological pain on concerned families in the villages of Tsindwi, Kunthama and Kaluzi.
It has eroded peace and created enmity difficult to mend, says village headman Kaluzi.
“There was a time when the two villages could not see each other eye to eye because of the death of Thauzeni. Accusations are continuing because one side thinks the death was caused by the other. Peace was affected here and that also affected development activities,” said Village Headman Kaluzi.
Eneless Kandewere is grandmother to Moya and mother to George Moffat.
She took care of Moya’s children after his wife left thinking he would never return.
“My children were labeled as murderers. This is difficult to erase as people think they indeed killed Jekapu. When the two were in the cooler, I took care of Moya’s children. His wife left and got married elsewhere because she thought he would not return. She left the children in my custody and as I am speaking to you, they are struggling. I can't afford to feed them and find basic necessities because I don’t work,” said Kandewere.
Alexander Nkunika is a paralegal. He helped the two get justice. The court case was eventually discontinued.
The discontinuance order in our possession issued on May 16th 2023 is from High Court and was signed by the Registrar of Courts.
Nkunika however, thinks the two have negatively been affected psychologically.
“The two have been depressed with the situation they were forced into. I have been close to them since they were in prison up until their release. They are depressed. Sometimes on their own they start crying when they recount the torturous experience they suffered while in police custody. They need some mental help so that they forget the circumstances they have been in. I think the whole issue brought in them psychological tumor which may take a little while to heal,” said Nkunika.
Chikondi Chijozi is the Chairperson of Malawi Human Rights Commission.
The case of these three, she says, is gross violation of human rights and beckons action.
“The situation that these three have been beacons gross violation of human rights. We are here to protect the rights of people and if they come and complain, we will certainly follow it up and see its logical conclusion,” says Chijozi.
When we visited Kaluzi village, the mother of the late Thauzeni Masula was in uncontrollable tears.
Her son was murdered by a mob for a murder that never took place, in the first place.
Before delegating her sister to give us an interview, she begged for justice in her son’s case.
Monica Mazeya is sister to Thauzeni’s mother.
“Our only worry is that in all the circumstances here, a life was lost. And that life was of our relatives. They have their relatives there while we don't. He used to support us. Our only plea now is for justice. Let justice prevail in this case,” said Mayeza.
For Alexious Kamangira, human rights lawyer and proponent for the abolition of death penalty, the case at hand vividly defends their position aside exposing the absence of dignifying means of extracting information and evidence from crime suspects within the Malawi Police Service.
“With the experiences of Harlod and Moffat it tells you that for a judicial and criminal system of Malawi, chances of mistake are more than making it right. It also tells us that someone can be sentenced to death for a case that never happened which I think supports our position to have the capital punishment abolished,” said Kamangira.
After the unwarranted mob killing of an innocent person, Thauzeni Masula and years of unjustified incarceration for Harlod Moya and Moffat George, the conversation calling for an end to the death penalty and capital punishment begins to make logical sense. May be not legal sense.