19 years ago, in the year of the Lord 2000 AD while working for Daily Times as an investigative Journalist, alongside Mabvuto Banda and Mc Donald Chapalapata I wrote disturbing a story on the Chiradzulo murders. In that story, I reported how women especially in Chiradzulo District and surrounding areas were being mercilessly and brutally killed and have had their eyes gauged, their breast cut and their private parts removed.
In that first report on Chiradzulo serial murders, I wrote on how unsuspected women were being targeted while walking to draw water from the wells in the village or as they work in their maize gardens. It was a front page lead story with a screamer of a headliner and truth be told, Deguzman Adzigude Kaminjolo, who at that time was the publication’s lead page designer with the late Hans Chikalema did the story justice. And the pictures that accompanied the story were apt and eye-catching and heart-throbbing. “Chiradzulo serial Murders on the prowl. 15 women killed.”
After that report, as a team we vigorously followed up every case on the matter. I, Mc Donald Chapalapata and the deputy Chief Mabvuto Banda with the guidance of our Chief Reporter and head of investigations Agent Zero Limbani Moya intensified our investigations and reported aggressively on the matter.
As usual, the police and the government dismissed the story as a mere scarecrow and the then Police Public Relations Officer the late Oliver Soko went to town not only with Press Releases but radio announcements assuring the citizenry that all is well and that the Media is but just exaggerating the murders and branded our reporting behaviour as ‘unpatriotic and that we were serving the interest of some disgruntled opposition parties.
We didn’t bulge. Not an inch. We kept soldiering on. We exposed the syndicate and some people were arrested. Two business magnets were convicted for first degree murder and were condemned to the gallows.
The serial murders had stopped, so it appeared.
Daily Times and its sister paper, Malawi News were vindicated but none came forward to pat the publication on the back for a job well done.
A year later, in mid January 2001, I told my immediate boss, deputy Chief Reporter Mabvuto Banda, Chief Reporter, Limbani Moya, the copy editor the late Wallace Mposa, Editor the late Jika Nkolokosa and the Managing Editor Mike Kamwendo, in an impromptu (investigative) editorial meeting that I needed to go back to the Chiradzulo serial murders’ story because I told them I still believed that the murders were still taking place only that the killers are playing smart and that I needed to go to Chiradzulo and surrounding areas to investigate into the depth and width of the matter.
The Managing Editor, Mike Kamwendo without hesitation approved the idea and left it with Jika Nkolokosa to sort the logistics. That was a Friday.
On Friday late afternoon I set myself out for the mission. I went to Chiradzulo. It was my biggest journalism mission and I was ready to unearth the truth behind the murders.
I stayed in Chiradzulo for close to three weeks. I disguised myself as one of the villagers and everyday I was going where people were drinking Masese and Kachasu. I became one of them and I made friends with the local people. It was Samuel, a 30-something Kachasu imbibing bloke with thick lips who unbeknown to him became my best friend.
Before you ask, was it it ethical for me to disguise myself as a villager in order for me to get information? But as it was a matter of public interest for me to do so, there was nothing wrong with it. On the other hand, it legally safe for me to do so. I was not not breaking any law.
Samuel, my guide, opened the doors. My mission was getting on really well. I was getting the information I wanted, but there was a twist to the tale.
My investigations revealed something unexpected. The killers had changed tactics. They now no longer liked women. Men were being butchered and their private parts were being harvested and nobody noticed. I had my big story. Up to 10 men were killed in a similar fashion and all of them had their penises and testicles cut off. It was scary. I had to act fast or I would be the next victim. Samuel was an illiterate but he knew a lot. He told me the people behind the murders. It was hard for me to believe him. But he was so sure of what he was saying. Big names were mentioned.
The next day, I attended a mass burial of the men killed and thereafter I went to T/A Likoswe’s house. I confided in him as to I really was. He offered me to stay in his house because, he told me, I shouldn’t trust Samuel, as he could easily sell me out. He said Samuel knew the murderers and he too knew of the syndicate but it was involving very powerful people and that he is powerless to stop them. I assured him that I would expose it and that the killings would completely come to an end that all the killers would be locked up in prison, small or big!
T/A Likoswe agreed to be interviewed saying he couldn’t let the killings go on in his area anymore. I had my Dictaphone with me, which he didn’t know of, and I recorded the whole interview and asked for his photograph. He took me to the graveyard where 10 the serial murder victims were buried for me to take photographs. And I left with my story,
Back at the office, three weeks later on a Sunday 7th February, 2001 I told my bosses the outcome of my investigations and everyone was happy and I was ready to write the story.
I wrote the first paragraph of the story and decided to show my sub-editor, Vynn Phiri otherwise known as Matembo Chimika Phiri and he looked at me with disgust before blurting;
“What the hell is this?” I replied respectfully and in a matter of fact tone.
“This is a satanic verse! Sanitise it,” he said as he walked away.
I was on it. I became creative with it and in the next two hours or so, the story was ready. When I gave it to Vynn, he smiled but never uttered a word. At that point, I knew I had done it.
I handed over the story and I left. My job was done for the day and my mission was accomplished.
Monday morning, February 8, 2001, the Daily Times screamed: Chiradzulo Serial Murders still on. 10 men killed in five days. The story was accompanied by an editorial comment and the late Jika Nkolokosa had weaved it with mastery and with finesse.
I arrived at the office at 07:30 am.
It was 08:00 am and we all went into an editorial meeting to discuss news ideas for the next day’s paper and also to do a postmortem for the day’s publication when the main office gatekeeper rang the newsroom and said that the armed police with armoured vehicles had invaded the premises.
Blantyre Print was under siege.
Soon, we saw the Commissioner of police Milward Chikwamba accompanied by over a dozen of gun-totting and trigger-happy PMF paramilitary police officer walking in. The commissioner of police was carrying a copy of the Daily Times in his hands and he looked very angry.
“What is this nonsense?” he shouted. “Who is the editor?”
“I am the Editor-in-Chief. How can I help?” said Kamwendo calmly.
At that material time we all went numb. Truth be told, I had my testicles frozen because I knew they came for me over my story.
The Police Commissioner ignored Mike Kamwendo and quietly pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and started reading out name: Peter Makossah, Mc Donald Chapalapata, Mabvuto Banda, Wallace Mposa, Rankin Nyekanyeka, Limbani Moya and Mike Kamwendo, you are all under arrest. You may wish to remain silent but anything you say will be used against you in a court of law.
We were all arrested and taken to Southern Region Police Headquarters where we found the deputy Inspector General of Police, Joseph Aironi lying in wait on the settee.
“Who sent you to write this?” Aironi turned on me.
I didn’t respond.
We were then taken each in his own room. As the prime suspect, I was taken into the Commissioner’s office and a minute later the deputy IG came in.
“Who sent yo to write this?” he asked his face sweating as if he had just finished making love to his wife.
“Nobody did send it Sir, I was just doing my job.” I replied.
“Very stupid boy. You think this is a joke right?” he yelled.
Silence ensued, like we were at the cemetery.
He dialled his phone and he was talking to someone very senior and from the conversation, it was not his boss, the IG as he kept saying Bwana, a IG wa ndi ogona.
The deputy IG left the room briefly and returned later to give instructions. Take this one to Zomba. The others to Lilongwe, Ntcheu, Dedza and wherever.” He said and left.
Meanwhile our Lawyer Meyer Chisanga was contacted and in no time he arrived. I told him what the deputy IG said about transferring me to Zomba and the others to Lilongwe and other places.
“Don’t worry!” he assured me.
We ended up appearing in an impromptu court at midnight after Mr Chisanga had refused that we be taken away and when the police argued that we would be taken to court the following morning as the courts were closed, Mr. Chisanga told the police that the court will convene as the judge was on his way. We were released on bail at midnight night charged with publishing false news to cause alarm and public fear.
T/A Likoswe was captured for granting me the interview and told him to say that he never spoke to me or indeed any journalist on the matter and that the story was just a mere fabrication.
I handed over all my interview tapes to Mr Chisanga who later communicated to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mr Fahad Assani.
When we went to court for preliminary hearing before His honour Chifundo Kachale, the DPP told the court that the state has forgiven us and that the case should be discontinued but Mr Chisanga, defending told the court to dismiss the case in its entirety because the state’s charges were frivolous and petty.
The State brought T/A Likoswe as a principal state witness who when told about the recorded interview buried his head in his hands.
Fast-forward to recent years, our country, Malawi is yet entangled in another serial murders but this time targeting people with albinism.
I think the media is not doing justice on the matter. They are just reporting what they are being told. I implore them to go deep into the matter and investigate to the minute detail of what is really happened. Someone has to step up the investigations. You will never get to the bottom of it through the police.
I have a gut feeling, there is more than what think it is and its time the media do a stinker on this issue and expose the syndicate.
I can hear some echoes from the past in this issue.(Copied from Peter Makossah’s facebook page)