Whilst Zambian nationals can walk scot-free without travel permits in Malawi, the situation is completely different in the neighboring country where once Malawians are caught in Zambia, without a passport, they are treated like criminals.
During market days, in localities that borders Malawi with Zambia, there is heavy presence of Zambians who transact business with Malawians, and others have stretched the neighborhood further by finding soulmates from each of the countries.
“I married from Malawi, and I take this as my second home. The warm heart of Africa,” said David Phiri, a Zambian trader we found at Bwanyonga trading centre in Rumphi.
He added: “I always come on Wednesday to this market. It’s where I buy, while selling my things here. In Zambia, from where I stay, Myombe, it’s very far to reach Lusaka and main commercial areas; that is why I utilise Rumphi boma and Mzuzu for my basic necessities.”
Enock Banda, another Zambian, described officers from the Malawi police and immigration as very friendly and understanding.
“They understand that our nearest trading centres are in Malawi. Denying us access would make us more vulnerable. We buy most things in Malawi. We’re almost one. Malawi na Zambia,” he said, suggesting that the two countries simply must scrap off immigration restrictions.
“We intermarry, eat together and speak similar languages; I wonder how these immigration restrictions are relevant. If I were the leader, these regulations would have been removed by now.”
Ironically, Malawians cannot be allowed such freedom in Zambia. Once caught, they’re treated with a heavy hand; the most unfortunate ones are reportedly clobbered heavily by Zambian security agents.
Said Khumbo Gondwe, a Malawian who married in Zambia: “One day, I almost died in a police custody in Zambia. Those people can beat. There was a funeral at my wife’s home in Chama. As a tradition, I went there to attend. Unfortunately, on my way, we met Zambian security agents. Upon interrogation, they found out that I am a Malawian.”
According to Khumbo, their discovery of his nationality rendered him to an abysmal legal implication, besides the thunderous clobbering he got from the cops.
“I was taken to a police custody. They continued beating me while demanding that I pay them thousands of Kwachas. I told them I had no money as I only went there for a funeral. They didn’t buy my explanation. It evoked more beatings,” he added.
Khumbo, a Malawian farmer in Rumphi, recalls regaining his freedom after fainting in the custody.
“I believe that I fainted. Because, I was found in a hospital at Katowo the next morning. Since that day, I regard going to Zambia, without traveling documents, as suicidal.”
Similar stories are told by most Malawians who have ever gone to the neighboring Zambia, without travel permits, and faced thunderous clobbering. Others had their properties confiscated.
In an interview, an immigration officer for Zambia at Kanyerere, confirmed, on condition of anonymity, that they indeed do not tolerate foreigners without certified documents in their country.
“Much as the beating might be an appeal to pity by the complainants, the truth is, all foreigners are obligated to come in Zambia upon production of a valid travel permit. We’re acting in accordance with the laws,” he said.
On the other hand, an immigration officer for Malawi, declined to comment much on the matter but rubbished claims that they are very friendly and allow to foreigners without passports.
“The issue is, we’ve many uncharted routes in the borders of Zambia and Malawi. We’re very limited in number to manage tracking down some. We always appeal to Malawians to be our partners in safeguarding our country from illegal foreigners,” said the officer at Jenda, Mzimba, which borders with Zambia.