Written by RAPHAEL TENTHANI
Perception, they say, matters in everything. What you really are may be important but what people perceive you to be is sacred.
Austin Chasowa, father of the slain 25-year-old Polytechnic student Robert Chasowa, spoke for all Malawians when he said whenever he sees police officers he sees killers on the rampage. We may not know who exactly dealt his son the death blow and why but the youth activist's sordid murder has police handwriting evident all over it.
It all started with how the police handled the whole affair. In any police rule-book all over the world any suicide is treated with a pinch of salt regardless of how clear it may seem to be. Even if the whole world saw the subject throwing itself from a height police are always reluctant to treat it as a suicide until they tick all the boxes. Did the subject jump or was pushed?
But not with our reformed and re-named Malawi Police Service. Even when it was clear to untrained eyes that Bob's death had suspicion written in block letters police were pronouncing him a suicide before any basic investigation was conducted. From the beginning police suspiciously exhibited rare speed - and enthusiasm - in trying to convince not only the askance nation but themselves that the young man had indeed taken his own life.
I may not be a trained sleuth but it was clear that police were up to no good here. First, why should Chasowa be so keen to convince the world that he had killed himself that he should leave behind not one but two suicide notes? Indeed why should he try so hard to convince us that he was so afraid to live that he should shout his parting words by writing his death wish in capital letters?
Post-mortems are key in such sudden deaths. But in a country where everything crawls why would Chasowa's alleged autopsy report come off the presses so fast before any concerned parties' shock had even subsided to ask for it?
Prof. Charles Dzamalala must be commended for refusing to play along. It was easy for the pathologist to play to the crowd and endorse the police's fake autopsy report his professional ethics notwithstanding. Do they not say we do not eat ethics? In fact because it was so clear to all and sundry that the fourth-year engineering student was murdered Dzamalala would have been afraid that he would also equally be bumped off should he prioritise ethics.
If President Joyce Banda has problems identifying July 6 national achievers' awardees here is a worthy candidate.
Like I said from the beginning, perception matters in everything. We entrust the police with not only our property but precious lives as well. So if the police themselves are not only working in cahoots with murderers but are active participants in gory affairs how are we going to trust them? It is easy to play the political card in the wake of the marathon of arrests that followed the publication of the results of the Andrew Nyirenda Commission of Inquiry into the death of Chasowa. After all, apart from the police officers, all those involved are connected to a certain political entity in one way or the other.
I have heard - and read - sentiments to the effect that the Commission was handled unprofessionally for its report was leaked to the media before a thorough investigation was conducted. Nothing could be zany than this. Who said the report was leaked? Once the report was presented to the President it became public property. After all what was new in the report that any discerning Malawian did not already know?
The purpose of the Nyirenda Commission was not to try any suspects; it was simply to establish a sequence of events leading to the macabre affair. On that score the Commission must be commended for several inquiries before it have never published reports of their findings. Up to now, for instance, we are yet to know what happened to former presidential economics advisor Dr. Prescious Kalonga Stambuli years after a high-profile inquiry was instituted.Relevant authorities - the police, unfortunately, and the courts - must therefore do the rest to put to rest the Chasowa affair. Whether those arrested are culpable or not is another matter.
But what is of utmost importance in this unfortunate affair are lessons to be extrapolated from it. First - and foremost - impunity does not help. All those involved were driven by the veneer of invincibility of power. As long as they were in power they thought they could get away with murder...quite literary.
We may not comment much on the arrests and subsequent trial of those involved for the cases are still in court. But I would like to go back to the police. After the infamous 'Mwanza Murders' trial where the police were also used by politicians to eliminate certain undesirable elements one would think the law-enforcers would learn to be professional. But that is not the case. Look at how police have allowed themselves to be abused by politicians by carrying out extra-curricular duties, as it were, like disrupting opposition rallies and extra-judicial murders like the apparent Chasowa one.
Loti Dzonzi has his work cut out for him indeed! The police chief must spruce up the battered image of the police by instilling a sense of professional discipline in the rank and file of his troops. Police officers must learn to say 'no' to illegal orders. They may suffer for sticking to ethics but the joy is always in doing the right things. Police officers that have resisted illegal orders are known to be punished by being posted to rural backwaters of the country. But just imagine all police officers were professional; Area 30 would certainly run out of rural backwaters to punish them all with!It is high time police convinced people like Chasowa's father that they are not murderers but protectors of life and property.
(c) The Maravi Post 2012