Tag Archives: victims

Mphatso Banda's shows off the bullet wound he got at a protest in Lumbadzi, Malawi. Photo by Kara Stevenson.

Victims of Malawi’s bloody protest speak

July 21, 2011 was an unruly day in Lumbadzi, Malawi – a violent protest paraded through the streets. While some citizens were using the protest to loot shops and pelt stones at police officers, many innocent people were injured.

“I started to run, but I felt numbness in my left foot. I realized that there was a lot of blood and I was told that I was shot,” said 16-year-old Stanley Zacharia, who said he was shot in the foot by police following the demonstration against corrupt governance charges.

The violent protest left 20 people dead and over 200 people injured.

It has been over seven months since the occurrence and families of surviving victims have yet to receive answers, advice or assistance from any organization.

Mphatso Banda's shows off the bullet wound he got at a protest in Lumbadzi, Malawi. Photo by Kara Stevenson.

“I rushed to the scene and when I got there I saw my boy was lying in a pool of blood. He couldn’t walk or sit. The blood was oozing so much,” said Albert Zacharia, who described the day when he thought his son, Stanley, was going to die.

Zacharia wasn’t the only 16-year-old to be shot during the July demonstration. Mphatso Banda, who was on the verge to play for Malawi’s national under-17 soccer team, now lives with a bullet in his leg. He was also shot by a police officer. He said he wasn’t a threat to police, but rather he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I was coming back from the trading centre and that’s where I was shot. In fact, I didn’t even know I was shot until someone told me,” said Mphatso.

A lot of money was spent on hospital bills. While Zacharia is left with two broken toes and a wound that may cause infection, Mphatso was told by doctors at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe that resources for his recovery would be readily available at a hospital in South Africa. However, due to the lack of financial means, he cannot afford to pay for his full recovery.

There has been financial compensation to families who have lost loved ones, but those left with permanent injuries like Stanley and Mphatso have not received any compensation.

During a 2012 New Year’s speech, Malawi police chief Peter Mukhito admitted that the police force did not have adequate equipment to handle July’s demonstration. Rather than using rubber bullets, the police used real bullets.

Davie Chingwalu, the national spokesperson for the Malawi police said cases like Zacharia’s are still being investigated.

The Malawi Human Rights Commission is a government organization that investigates cases in which police may have caused unnecessary injuries. John Kapito, the chairperson of the MHRC said during their investigation, they did discover the injustice on both Stanley’s and Mphatso’s cases. He said their next step is to determine what action should follow.

The human rights activists who organized the July 21 demonstration, among others, have been paying tribute to families of people whose lives were lost during the violent protest. MacDonald Sembereka, the national coordinator of the Human Rights Consultative Committee, was one of the many who organized the demonstration and said there are legal actions that victims can initiate.

“We are looking at legal address for them. We know who shot them and they are liable to sue the government in this circumstance. We want them to take this to court,” said Sembereka.

Albert Zacharia, Stanley’s father, worries about the lack of action taken by these organizations that are forefront of the investigations.

“Who do I blame? Should I blame the government, the civil society, should I blame myself? Should I blame the boy? There are no answers to these questions. At the moment, I need assistance in figuring out what should be the next step,” he said.

Justice be done in public: Ghanaian identification parades

She wears an intricately woven blue dress, fresh black high-heels and ties a matching scarf around her head to keep long braids away from her face. She is cautious not muss her outfit and avoids the shallow puddles as she walks through the rain damp courtyard of Accra-Central’s police station. Her wardrobe is no accident as she had been rehearsing this day for months. She inspects the line-up of men against the wall, then stops. Her arm raises, hand trembles slightly and comes to rest on one of their shoulders.

“How do you know this man?” asks the police officer in charge.

“He is the one who attacked me,” she says. Her eyes now fixed on a face she had perhaps seen in dreams nearly every night since.

The young man refuses to meet her stare. He is smaller than the other suspects, barefoot and marked with with a diagonal scar across his nose. He is sixth in a row of ten. Each man chained by their wrist to the one next to them with the entire group flanked by officers holding clubs and well-worn AK-47s

“Do you know her?” The officer asks.

“Daabi,” replied Scar, choosing to answer in Twi a question he was asked in English.

“No? You don’t remember me? Liar, you came in the house where my children sleep and you raped me.” Her voice raises but doesn’t crack as her hand remains firm on his shoulder.

Scar mutters something inaudible and hangs his head toward the dirt between his toes.

An officer marks the accused man’s number down on a form affixed to a clipboard and hands it to her. She takes it in her right hand and keeps her left in place. After a few moments tension she lets go, signs her name and walks away.

The woman in blue was the first to identify him and there will be more. In total, seven people, three women and four men, accuse Scar of perpetrating acts of violence against them. The men he remembers and admits to robbery at gun point. When the women approach he stares at the ground and offers monosyllabic denials. When the procession ends, victims disappear into the crowd while Scar and the others are hustled back to their cell.

“We understand it’s not the best way to do this but we don’t have the means for more complicated options,” says police spokesperson K.W. Kuffour. “The victims are kept safe when they come to identify their attackers.” However, no system is perfect and police admit safety is never guaranteed.

In the west, there is a barrier. A one-way mirror separating the accuser and the accused. The suspects are marched into a dark room with bright lights shining in their eyes. They stand against a wall and wait. They wait for the someone they can’t see to identify them, or to be set free. The process is cold, anonymous and institutionalized. In Ghana, this is not the case. The ritual puts victim and alleged assailant face to face. Close enough to hear the other’s breath and remember the last time they met. This method presents critical concerns and unique opportunities. The Victims become vulnerable once outside secure police compounds, yet many describe the experience as empowering. “I knew he’d be there and I had to be there to,” says the woman in blue. “He knows my house, but I’m not afraid anymore.”

Scar was in custody on charges unrelated to the crimes he was identified for in the queue. Police caught him after he snatched a man’s cell phone in the Nima district of Accra. Nearly all of his line-mates were arrested on similar offenses. Every few months, district police stations advertise an upcoming public identification and empty the cells of petty offenders. The event attracts a large crowd of on-lookers, accomplices, victims and family members on both sides of the law. Suspects are chained together and organized in single file. One-by-one victims walk the line and search for the person they say violated them. The resultant verbal confrontations are explosive with armed officers present to maintain a hold on this demonstrative form of justice. The spectacle itself is known as an “identification parade” and it nearly always ends in a circus.