Villagers demand justice for two men shot dead by forest rangers


By George Mponda, MANA

Villagers from Chigumula and Mpango in Senior Chief Tambala in Dedza have said they want justice to be served after two men were allegedly shot dead by Thuma Forest Reserve rangers.

Speaking to hundreds of people who had gathered Monday at Chigumula Village after the burial of the two men, Senior Chief Tambala said people in his area are now gripped with fear over the deaths of the two men.

Chifuniro Nkhondo, 35, from Chigumula Village and 15-year-old Kumbilani Chinjedza from Mpango Village were shot dead on Saturday, September 26.

An armed ranger in Thuma Forest Reserve

Chief Tambala was appalled upon receiving a report from Group Village Headman Kapanda that Nkhondo was shot at by the rangers even though he was running away from them.

He said after they had captured a woman with her child, they later discovered Chinjedza in his field and they also shot him on the chest.

“When news reached the village about the shootings, people rushed to assist their fellow villagers but the scouts opened fire on them, injuring four other people,” the chief said.

He added that for a long time, people who live in villages that border Thuma Forest Reserve have been suffering at the hands of the forest scouts, who are reportedly accuse communities of continued trespassing.

MP Kafwafwa at the funeral

But the village folks would have none of these and demand that the rangers should be punished.

“Since 2019, almost 80 men from these villages were arrested, accused of trespassing yet some were captured in their fields while others were apprehended whilst fishing in Linthipe River and are currently being kept in custody in Nkhotakota,” the chief said.

Addressing the concerned villagers, Member of Parliament for Dedza North Constituency, Savel Kafwafwa assured them that he would engage the right authorities to ensure that justice is served.

He assured that he would see to it that the issue of boundary with the forest reserve is sorted out for good.

DC Bulukutu talks to one of the victims

“Indeed, it was reported to me by the Area Development Committee that people here were being harassed by the forest scouts,” he said.

“After the Minister of Forestry and Natural Resources, Nancy Tembo was sworn in, I called her and reported this issue and we were in the process of organising a meeting with all stakeholders concerned when this tragic incident happened.

“It is very sad lives have been lost over an issue which could have been solved through dialogue. I promise you that I will not rest until those who are responsible for killing our brothers face the law and this conflict over the boundary with the forest is resolved,” he said.

Also in attendance was Dedza District Commissioner, Emmanuel Bulukutu, who appealed to the people to be calm while authorities are working on the issue.

“Today, we have lost two men over a matter that could have been resolved by coming together and finding a compromise for both sides,” he said, adding that although forest conversation is very important, there is also need to ensure that the welfare of the communities living close to the forests is considered.

Bulukutu then promised the villagers that the District Council would take the matter up with higher authorities to ensure the law takes its course and that disputes over the forest reserve boundary are resolved.

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The 197 square-kilometer Thuma Forest Reserve — which stretches through Dowa, Dedza and Salima — is one of the few forest reserves in Malawi which is home to elephants and buffaloes.

Meanwhile, Police in Lilongwe have arrested a 42-year-old man on suspicion that he killed his younger brother over a meal in an incident that happened on Sunday in Dzalanyama Forest.

According to Lilongwe Police Station deputy public relations officer, Sergeant Foster Benjamin, it is alleged that the suspect, Solomon Mwenda, and his brother, 32-year-old Stanford went to the forest to burn charcoal and a quarrel broke out between the two over beans that was prepared by the suspect.

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Benjamin said their argument ended into a fist fight, forcing the younger brother to escape.

The suspect, however, went after Stanford and assaulted him with a hoe handle, leading to his death.

Some villagers found the deceased body in the bush and reported to Chinsapo Police Unit.—Additional reporting by Blessings Kapina, MANA