Irate villagers at Tikoliwe on Wednesday roughed up and injured Senior Chief Mlonyeni and four Mchinji District Council officials when the officials went to the Mchinji/Zambia border to discuss land to be used as border market by Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
In an interview with Malawi News Agency (MANA), Mchinji Council Chairperson Yona Mtanga who was part of the delegation to Tikoliwe Village, said the council had for the past weeks engaged chiefs in the area on the need for them to allocate their farm land for the upcoming COMESA border Market.
“We met chiefs to explain to them on issues of compensation, and how COMESA will process the payments and as councillor for the area (Kalumbe Ward) before that, on Sunday I went to Tikoliwe to discuss with the people on the need for the market to be constructed in the area, and the discussion went on well,” he explained.
Mtanga said he assured the communities that he would come back on Wednesday with Senior Chief Mlonyeni and other council officials who included Director of Planning and Development Noel Dakamau and other land officials to further discuss the issue.
“When we went on Wednesday, we were surprised to see about 100 people including village heads had gathered waiting. We sensed something was wrong.
“After that, people asked questions and accused us of being corrupt and that they heard rumours that the land was going to be used for other projects and not the COMESA market,” he said.
“Before we knew it, the people pounced on us and told us they were going to kill us, they roughed up the DPD, Senior Chief Mlonyeni and me, beating us with sticks and stones injuring us in the process, lucky enough we managed to escape,” he said.
The people rushed to Mchinji District hospital where they were treated as out patients.
Mtanga said as councillor for the area he is now worried that the future of the market which was to develop the border is now bleak.
“It is sad that a misunderstanding has brought all this. Only four hectares is needed for this market, and we identified land at Tukoliwe, most of which is farming land and all compensation procedures were to be followed, we need this development in the district,” he explained.
Confirming the development Mchinji District Commissioner Peter Jimusole said the villagers also smashed a vehicle belonging to Senior Chief Mlonyeni and snatched their gadgets such as phones.
“Yes indeed some of the council members were manhandled by angry community members at one of the sites where we want to construct COMESA market. This is a site where we chose depending on the suitability of the market along the border,” he said.
He, however, said the council will continue engaging the communities and make them understand so that the project should proceed in the district.
Meanwhile Mchinji Police Station Officer in Charge George Mtetemera has confirmed the development.
The OC said no arrest has been made so far and that the police are still investigating to find out the perpetrators so that they are brought to book.
“Yes we got the report yesterday that some of the council officials were injured by angry community members,” he said.
COMESA is constructing border markets to reduce connection between traders and customers.
According to information sourced from COMESA website it was discovered that lack of market infrastructure near borders reduces the connection between traders and customers, in addition to poor quality or absence of storage facilities.