MANEPO, Womens Lawyers to petition Chakwera over killing of elderly woman

Manepo, WLA

Malawi Network for the Older Persons Organisation (MANEPO) and Women Lawyers Association (WLA) will on November 13 petition President Lazarus Chakwera at the Office of President and Cabinet at capitol hill in Lilongwe to present grievances over the rampant attacks and killings of the elderly.

Statistics show that in 2020 alone, there have been over eight cases where older men and women were killed just on suspicion of practicing witchcraft despite Malawi’s Witchcraft Act of 1911 not recognising its existence; and stating it is an offence to accuse anyone of practising it.

This petition comes following the stoning of a woman to death in Dedza over allegations she was practicing witchcraft. Two people have since been arrested.

President Chakwera speaking in Parliament assured Malawians of rule of law saying these issues bring tears into his eyes and took time for a moment of silent in honour of the grandmother.

Speaking at press conference in Blantyre on Wednesday the two groups applauded Chakwera for his commitment to protect older persons in Parliament saying it was a step in the right direction and an assurance in ending atrocities against the elderly in the country but wanted stronger condemnation of the vice and deliberate action from the President’s office on safeguarding older persons.

Andrew Kavala, MANEPO Executive Director said one of the requests in their petition will be instituting a National Task Force to look at such cases and come up with a concrete roadmap to curb the malpractice, just as has been the case with other vulnerable groups like persons with albinism.

“Dialogue remains key to provide conducive environment for older women and men. Age catches up with all of us and let us not look at them now but those who are 60 above in full view we are also going to in the same situation,” he said.

Kavala: We need clear roadmap

“There is a dangerous sceptre haunting this nation in how far we have gone in entrenching our deepest disdain for elderly people.  This is no longer the sceptre about how we disrespect our elderly people. This is the sceptre about how we have gone deep in normalising the killings of our elderly people—to a point of resorting to medieval ways of exorcising innocent people through stoning them death.  

He expressed shock and dismay at the loss of an elderly lady in Dedza who, on Monday, was stoned to death after senseless accusations of practicing witchcraft. 

“In this tragedy of Dedza, there is something quite spectacular that I want to bring to your attention—because it is a potent symbol of how wrought we have become as a nation.”

Khaki: Humans should be treated with dignity

Kavala added: “It is very unbecoming for one, let alone older persons, to live under a cloud of suspicion. We passed the era when one could do what they please, without being restrained by the muscle of the law. It is imperative that everyone should use proper channels to address concerns, for one cannot concurrently play the roles of an accuser, prosecutor and judge.”

Kavala added that the Tonse Government must provide a clear direction on the ‘Malawi Okomera Tonse’ with regard to elderly people and demanded the Malawi Police Services for speedy trial those involved in the killing of the elderly as justice delayed is justice denied.

“What stood out in these forms of killings is that they tried, at all cost, to keep them away from the public—especially younger ones.  The Dedza case, however, brings quite a shift in these killings. We are now seeing public exorcism where even younger ones are involved not just in parading the accused in the public but even in the actual stoning of an innocent person to death.

"The message that is coming from Dedza killers is clear: They are saying that they are not afraid to stone to death, in the broad daylight with cameras on, any elderly person they decide to accuse of witchcraft.

“The question is: How have we come to a point where people are now able to parade elderly women in public and stone them to death to the point where they can even take pictures for evidence? The answer is simple: It’s because the State has been complacent in ensuring that these devilish acts are nipped in the bud. As alluded to earlier, we have had over 10 cases where elderly people have been killed in this country."

On plans to come up with legislation, Clara Khaki Legal Aid Coordinator for Women Lawyers Association said there are none but there is chapter on human rights in the which Constitution which clearly states human beings should be treated with dignity among which is freedom from torture, regardless of age or religion.

Khaki said the State has the duty to ensure rights are protected and fulfilled.

“Malawi is signatory to Universal Declaration of Human Rights which stipulates that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

"More so, the recently adopted African Union Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Older. The problem is implementation and enforcement of these rights. A lot of people in the community do not know about these rights and that is why they go about violating, the state also abdicates it power," he said.

She assured all Malawians they are watching closely issues surrounding the situation and are available for support.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between MANEPO and WLA will be signed in the next few days and the details will be disclosed then.