Friday, 24 June 2016


Sunduzwayo Madise
24 June 2016

Now I have known Bon for quite a long time. In the year years when yours truly was an active drama actor (believe it) I recall meeting Bon when he was part of a 2-man outfit at a festival in Lilongwe. His performance left an impression upon me. He was clearly like no other performer I had seen. So Bon has always been a performer, and a good one at that. And he never disappoints. Natural born and gifted, talented artists rarely do.

A couple of weeks ago, Bon was in the news when he announced that he would lead a march in support of Albino rights in his birth suit. Well he later relented and said he would do so in his underwear. Now I listened to the radio interview in which the reporter asked Bon to confirm if the march would indeed be au naturel or in the nude and he emphatically said it would. Knowing him like I do, I knew that there was no way we would have a nude march in Malawi and here is why. First, it is against the law as we still have on our statute books the criminal offence of indecent exposure. Secondly, it is something that would be culturally, morally and religiously hard to pull off. But hey, a march of men in their boxers or underwear right in the middle of the seat of government seems to have broken the traditional taboos too! Bon was joined in this by notable activist, and another good friend of mine, Billy Mayaya. Now normally Billy and Bon rarely talk on the same wavelength politically. This is because Bon is no ordinary soul. He is a Member of Parliament[1], and a popular one at that. So when Bon and Billy join hands, maybe one ought to pay attention.

The march took place on the 22nd of June, 2016. And contrary to recent marches, it actually attracted a sizeable crowd. It seemed very well organised and peacefully conducted. Kudos to Bon and Billy. Others may be amazed onlookers, one would validly argue. I mean the idea of men sweating around in their underwear is not a sight that can be said to be too common on the streets of Malawi! Already one particular picture seems to have gone viral and attracted a lot of comments, especially by ladies, but hey but it’s all part of the game. Shock and awe were supposed to be the dual weapons. I have ready others lamenting that “Winiko watinyenga[2] meaning they actually are disappointed that he did not come out wearing nothing at all! Doesn’t augur well with the usually parroted phrase of God-fearing Nation, does it now? Seriously?

The march culminated in Bon giving a petition to Kamlepo Kalua.[3] Now it is not clear in what capacity Kamlepo received the petition as his he deputises the chair of the Public Appointments Committee which ordinarily would not be in the business of discussing such issues. One would have expected the Chairperson of the Legal Affairs Committee to receive the petition. The Speaker would have been ideal; but maybe in view of the dress code, this may have been a tall order. But maybe it was befitting that Kamlepo receives the petition. Those who were around during the Tcheya[4] years will remember how Kamlepo would undertake lone marches up to the gates of Sanjika Palace[5] and present his petitions. So only a gallant fighter could truly receive a petition from another gallant fighter.

I have read comments to the effect that Bon was engaging himself in a publicity stunt or seeking public attention. To this, I ask; for what purpose? Who does not Bon Kalindo also known as (a.k.a.) Winiko? Unless you have been living under some rock somewhere; the name and face of Winiko have been a constant feature in the years past on our TV. In fact, Winiko in a half-petticoat was a constant feature on TV! But what Bon has actually done, even if you may not agree with the manner of protest, is to draw into focus the issue of Albino killings and make it a relevant topic of discussion, especially in social media circles. The other day we had a judgement from the Mzuzu High Court in which Judge Dingiswayo Madise (not me) sentenced the prisoner to life imprisonment on a conviction of attempted murder of Morton Juma, a young boy with albinism uttering now the famous words; “It has been argued that the worst offender is not yet born, I would like to state that the worst offender is finally here."[6] That judgement, which I agree with 100%, had the nation discussing the issue for a week or thereabouts. We, therefore, needed something to keep the discussion on the table otherwise it is a natural tendency that something will come and preoccupy our attention. After all, it is trite that nature does not favour a vacuum.  

Now what is Bon actually asking for? When he and Billy ask for the death penalty for killers of people with albinism, what does that mean? We already have the death penalty on our statute books. The Penal Code prescribes death as a penalty on conviction of a charge of murder.[7] The only difference is that after the case of Kafamtayeni,[8] the Constitutional Court held that mandatory death sentence is unconstitutional and illegal. This then means upon conviction of murder, the Court is not compelled to sentence the convict to death. However, the Court may do so where aggravating circumstances emerge. However, therein lies the problem. Since the dawn of multiparty, all successive Presidents have refused to have those on the death-row executed. A little criminal procedure summary is important to put this in context. When the Court sentences someone to death; that does not automatically mean the person will be done with in the days following the sentence. The Court only issues a Committal warrant committing the prisoner to the jailor to await the execution of his sentence.  But in order for the sentence to be executed, the President must sign a Warrant of Execution, a death order so to say. It is only when this has been signed and sealed with the Presidential insignia that the prisoner can face the gallows and his maker immediately thereafter. Now I recall that Tcheya said he would not sign any such warrants because it was against his religious and moral beliefs. Bingu[9] said the same thing. Amayi[10] never signed and the same applies to APM[11] and one would only deduce that the rationale is the same. Now other legal scholars have actually argued that such refusal to perform the functions of the office of president is an abdication of responsibilities and either we maintain the death penalty and enforce it or scrap it. Some human rights activists, on the other hand, have used this as a basis calling for the abolition of the death penalty altogether since in fact there is a moratorium on it. Others have also cautioned that goodwill of a sitting President is not enough as we may one day elect someone who will decide to sign the warrants as and when presented to him; including all the ones that were left by his or her predecessor.  But this piece is not about the death penalty per se. The discussion was to put the demands of Bon, Billy and others in context.

So one may ask, what is the purpose of presenting the petition to Parliament? After all, Parliament already did its job and passed a law in 1929[12] that put the death penalty on the statute books? Shouldn’t the petition be addressed at the President and force him to sign any warrants for those sentenced to death over Albino killings? One might say this would be the most direct route. But would it be the most effective? That is where the ingenuity of Bon comes in. Bon is an MP of the DPP, the party led by the President. He obviously has demonstrated he is an astute and street-wise politician who realises that in politics, effect is all important. A petition to Parliament by a Parliamentarian in this fashion is unprecedented. Almost unheard of. Ordinarily, that should be done within the Parliamentary floor itself; not outside the gates. He is actually forcing his fellow legislators to engage in a debate, even against their wishes or will. Interestingly he is doing so when most of them are demanding an increase in their own perks. Bon is changing the subject matter of the debate, the focus of their attention. He is the debate shifter. And in doing so he has caught the attention of the society, all of us. The issue of killings of people with Albinism was recently covered by the CNN.[13] Christian Amanpour expressed shock that human beings are hunting fellow human beings in the belief that their bones are key ingredients to good luck charms to get rich. The Mzuzu High Court (Judge Madise sitting) issued an injunction against advertising in the media by witchdoctors and herbalists on the application of people who believe that this is fuelling the killings of people with albinism. Bon is forcing us to continue having frank discussions around the issue. He is forcing us to once again not shelve the subject. And for a protest, that is all that is ever needed. The attention of the polity. So like him or not, you have to take a bow to the man of the moment: Bon Kalindo.

[1] Of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
[2] Winiko has lied to us
[3] Kamlepo Kalua was a vibrant activist during the last two decades of the reign of Dr Banda. With John Unandi Banda and Shyley Kondowe, they run an anti-Banda crusade on Channel Africa aired from South Africa. He is now an MP for the People’s Party (PP) and its Vice President (for the North).
[4] Tcheya (Chair) is the name given to Bakili Muluzi. This is because after his term as President of UDF run its course, a new post of Chair(man) was created to accommodate him.
[5] When Bakili Muluzi became President (2nd president of the country) , he refused to go and stay at the opulent New State House (now Kamuzu palace) in Lilongwe, he instead turned it into Parliament and opted to stay at the old Sanjika Palace in Blantyre.
[6] Although I must hasten to add that similar words were spoken in relation to Oswald Lutepo when Justice Dr Redson Kapindu sentenced him to the maximum prison term for one of the offences which he was charged: Republic v Oswald Lutepo, Criminal Cause No 02 OF 2014 (Zomba Registry)
[7] Section 210 of the Penal code, Chapter 7:01 of the Laws of Malaŵi
[8] Kafantayeni and others v. Attorney General, Constitutional Case No. 12 of 2005 [2007] MWHC 1
[9] Bingu wa Mutharika, 3rd president.
[10] The popular name of the 4th president of Malaŵi, Joyce Banda
[11] Arthur Peter Mutharika, 5th president.
[12] Penal Code, Act No. 22 of 1929 assented to on 1 April 1930.
[13] Amnesty: Malawi 'accepts there's a problem' CNN accessed 24 June 2016.

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