When Cyclone Freddy hit Malawi, it wreaked havoc in many places, Machinjiri being one of them. Within a few days, we saw many river banks break and destroy homes, washing away people and livestock and changing how we view life. Bridges were washed away like they were built with sticks. I happened to have stayed close to one of the worst disasters that might have hit Machinjiri; the video below is a testament.
However, the place that was slammed hard and had the worst death tool during Cyclone Freddy was Chilobwe. The landslides that people were hit by were heartbreaking; many lives were lost, and the survivors were left displaced. Families were pulled out of the earth, their bodies still like they had never lived. And when the funeral was held for those whose bodies had been found, the whole could be heard mourning. It was a tragedy unseen before.
Seven months after the heartbreaking tragedy, the country is yet to recover. More so the victims from Chilobwe who lost their homes and now have nowhere to call home.
However, the past couple of months have seen the Malawi Government through the Ministry of Lands embark on a land-sharing mission for Cyclone Freddy victims in Mapanga. The idea is to remove them from Chilobwe, especially since Soche Mountain is still marked risky and could see other disasters happen in the future. After years of NGOs and citizens crying for this exact mission, it is now in effect.
Unfortunately, this is not a process that will be easy and things might get bad in the near future. The land they plan on giving to the victims is land owned by people from Machinjiri. Currently, there has been no agreement between the Government and the “owners”.
Let me give you a bit of my sourced history about these lands.
a tale of a white man on a horse and his beloved workers
If you have ever passed by Mapanga, then I am sure you have once been captivated by its picturesque scenery. The Macadamia trees that cover a huge chunk of the land give the area a peaceful aura. It is no wonder that a white man chose that exact area to settle in.
In whatever year that was, there was a white man by the name of Nicolai who had acquired a lot of the land. Tale tells that his lands started from where the Malawi Prison grounds are, all the way to the banks of the South Lunzu River. For those who know where the river is should know that that was a huge amount of land.
Nicolai, according to those who narrated this story, was a man who loved farming but more than anything loved his horses. His horses were like children to him and he cared so much for them. However, due to the management of his estate, the actual caretaking of the horses was done by workers he had hired from a village called Nanthoka in Machinjiri.
Some of the people from this village worked on his farms, and he learned to love them for the good work they did. At the time, they were still practicing thangata, meaning wages were paid in items such as maize flour, or any other food items available. He loved them so much that he started learning their names and even shared stories with them as they performed their duties.
Unfortunately, when he got older, he decided it was time to go back home. For the good service they had provided on his lands, he decided it was only right to repay them by giving them the lands as their own. So he shared the lands with the workers equally, so they could do with them as they pleased.
For generations, the people of Nathoka in Machinjiri have farmed on those lands. The lands have passed down from one generation to another, while others decided to sell them off.
An alternative story is that Kamuzu Banda had forced the white people out of the lands. Due to the lands being idle, the people in Machinjiri decided to farm in them and over time, claimed that they were there’s.
Government vs the People of Machinjiri
A few months ago, it was communicated that the government planned on sharing land with the Cyclone Freddy victims to settle. Within a few weeks, the people in Machinjiri were told that the land in Mapanga was to be used as the settlement land for the victims. However, there was no communication on how this was going to be done exactly.
Many wondered if the government was going to buy the lands from them before the land-sharing exercise began. Many believed that this would be the most noble thing to do as it was their land, and if taken away, would mean leaving them with no place to farm and thus leaving them to perish to hunger.
As these thoughts were still being processed, they were hit by another communication that the said lands belonged to the government and could be shared as pleased. This obviously was not received with the warmest hearts. There have been meetings held by officials and chiefs hoping to get to an agreement, but no agreement has been reached yet.
Amidst all this, the Ministry still decided to set their boys to start the land-sharing process. As they were busy measuring the land, a group of the finest Machinjiri citizens showed up ready for war. Best to say that the works were halted immediately.
complaints by victims
Whilst there is an unresolved fight between the government and the people from Machinjiri who believe are the rightful owners and require compensation before the land is shared, the victims who are to be placed there have also shared their own dismays.
Many complained that the area was too secluded and did not offer much. Schools, hospitals, and other essential services are difficult to get from where their new homes are meant to be. This will mean that their children will have to walk miles just to get access to education, which brings new risks in itself.
However, the treatment given is a silent “beggars are not choosers”.
There is no resolution. Landowners in Machinjiri have sworn not to give up their land for free. As a matter of fact, at a meeting in the Nanthoka area, an agreement was made to resist any proposal that the government would make until they got what they wanted.
As a matter of fact, they vowed to chase the Cyclone Freddy victims if they settled into their land. “Chitazawachitikile ndichomwecho”, is a phrase that was used.
It is interesting to see how this story will unfold in the next couple of weeks and to see who will fold first. For now, I wanted to share this little piece of gathered information.