So many words can be said of Evaristo Mapulanga, a man known to have ruled Limbe with a strong cane. He was a no-nonsense police officer who was feared so much by both thieves and civilians. Thieves knew not to be near him or they would find themselves in a new home with so many restrictions, while civilians had to dress accordingly lest they would be beaten.
I learned of his death from my uncle, who called me asking if I had written about him like he had asked me to. With shame, I said no. But I thought it was a story worth sharing that amazes me. If you are wondering which uncle this is, it is the same guy I wrote about who was wrongly jailed during Kamuzu’s era. You can read the full story here. When I was writing about him, I got very interested in the Malawi Police Services, and that is when I learned about Evaristo Mapulanga.
There was excitement when he shared the Mapulanga story, and a phrase he kept saying “That was a real policeman.” I sensed an adoration for the man and some respect. My uncle said, “He was a man who loved his work, understood the assignment of his role and the badge he carried around, and worked by the oath.” This was a praise like no other, it would only be right to then share what was detailed to me.
Mapulanga: It Takes a Thief to Catch a Thief
In my area, they introduced a traffic control officer who is a civilian. He is backed by the police, and everyone; including minibus drivers and conductors, robbers, and civilians knows that he is backed by the Malawi Police Service. They stationed him at the busiest marketplace in Machinjiri to control the traffic. Indeed, the chaos subsidized during peak hours, but a lot kept wondering why they would take a civilian to do the police’s work.
Upon asking, I was told it was a model that had been used before and often created the best police officers in the service. One of the best examples is Evaristo Mapulanga.
From those who knew him, Mapulanga was allegedly a pickpocketer. Most knew him in Limbe and was notorious for it. He was a regular at the Limbe Police Service, so much so that each time he was released, they would joke about when they would see him next. It was his way of life.
However, there came a time when Limbe was lawless, the crime rate was escalating so high, that they feared Kamuzu would rain hell on them. A decision was made to find one notorious thief who would help incarcerate others and bring the town to order. Mapulanga was the perfect fit.
Some say he was already under police custody when such a decision was made, thus he needed to decide whether to rot in jail or wear the uniform. He chose the uniform and thus began the training of one of the most feared police officers during the Kamuzu Banda’s era.
Things did go according to plan, a lot of thieves were caught when he was brought in. It is said that he had a great eye of judgment, one look at a person and he would know whether he was a thief or not. He was a man of the law.
It is said that warning messages would be given around when he was seen taking patrol in Limbe. This was a warning for robbers to hide, and everybody else to fix themselves.
Mapulanga’s dress code
The Kamuzu Banda’s era was known for a lot, one of them being the dress code. Women could not wear pants, see-through clothing, etc. As for the men, they needed to look smart, with well-combed hair. Things like dreadlocks were frowned upon.
Police officers especially were required to look sharp at all times and set an example to the civilians. My uncle is a good example, the man irons his clothes so sharp that they could cut you if not careful. He moves with a shoe brush and cleans his shoes each time a little soil gets on them.
Mapulanga was no different, and he took the “be an example” literally. It is said that he would slap men whose hair was not combed, then proceeded to comb their hair himself, albeit not gently. He would wait and watch while other men squirmed under his gaze as they tucked in their shirts.
Women were not exempt. They needed to look the part, you could not wear anything short or see-through and expect him to pass by. He would shout at them and force them to buy chitenje to cover up.
While we can frown upon such actions in this modern day, many who witnessed it say it helped put things in order. The fear that was instilled within people allowed them to check themselves. At the same time, they did not worry much as it helped decrease the crime rate.
Mapulanga’s Legacy as an Inspiration
When Gladson Chipumphula was installed as the Officer-in-Charge of the Limbe Police Station, many likened him to Evarista Mapulanga. Something he has said is a praise to him. He has shared in the media how he can only wish to be half the police officer that Mapulanga was.
One thing that is not mentioned enough is how he was able to patrol Limbe bus depot and the whole market area by himself without needing support and still be able to cultivate fear from the lawless. This was bravery beyond because I see no modern police officer being able to garner such.
However, I strongly feel it is his background that actually molded him to be as great a police officer as he was. Being taken off the streets by your enemies to work as one of them is something. He knew the tricks and knew how to burst them.
Like I have said in many of my writings on special figures, it is sad that we are not privileged to stories of such men. Their stories are what built the communities and would be a delight to read them.
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