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 forest scouts from Thuma Forest Reserve on Saturday.
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.
A 35-year-old Chifuniro Nkhondo from Chigumula Village and 15-year-old Kumbilani Chinjedza from Mpango Village were shot dead on Saturday, September 26.
Tambala said: “I received a report from Group Village Headman Kapanda that on Saturday, forest scouts who were on patrol shot Nkhondo as he was running away from them.
“He said after they had captured a woman with her child, they later found 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 colleagues and that was when the scouts opened fire on the villagers, injuring four other people,” he added.
The chief said for a long time, people who live in villages that border Thuma Forest Reserve have been suffering at the hands of the forest scouts.
The scouts are reported to accuse communities of trespassing many times, but now the vilagers want the men who killed their colleagues to be punished.
“As I speak, since 2019 almost 80 men from these villages were arrested after being accused of trespassing, yet some were captured in their fields and others while fishing in Linthipe River and currently, they are being kept in custody in Nkhotakota,” he said.
Addressing the 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 the villagers that he would see to it that the issue of boundary with the forest reserve is sorted out for good.
“Indeed, it was reported to me by the Area Development Committee that people here were being harassed by the forest scouts and after the Minister of Forestry and Natural Resources, Nancy Tembo, was sworn in,” he said.
“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,” Kafwafwa added.
“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 further said.
In his remarks, Dedza District Commissioner, Emmanuel Bulukutu who was also in attendance, 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.
He said 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 Dedza 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.
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 Buffalos.