An interesting and sometimes frightening aspect of Malawian culture is the tendency towards mob justice. The police here are not paid a living wage and are often prone to asking for bribes or levy fines under false pretenses. They also do not generally have vehicular transport to get from their location to the location of an accident or crime. These issues combined, mean that Malawians tend to band together and defend each other when crimes take place. However, these reactions often are extreme, and may result in deaths. Since I have arrived in Malawi, I have encountered a few instances of mob justice, and I thought I’d share the stories and some thoughts that they sparked.
In the fall, an accountant was walking the day’s profit from a supermarket in a city mall to a bank three doors down in the same complex. Five armed men attacked her and stole the bag of money, and the ensuing shouting brought the owner of the supermarket outside. He brought his gun, and ended up shooting one robber and killing him, and injuring a second. Two thieves got away in a vehicle. The two thieves that were still on the scene ran away, with a crowd of people following them. When the crowd caught them, they began beating them, threw gasoline on them, and burnt them to death.
The second act of mob justice that I heard of occurred early in the year, when the rainy season had begun in earnest and the grasses around the city were very tall. Two men hid in the six-foot-tall grass at one part of an intersection, and when a woman cut through a path in the grass to get to her bus stop, they attacked her and tried to rape her. She shouted for help, and a crowd formed, chased the men, and beat them.
The most recent happened at a local school and was shocking. A father decided that he did not like the way his child was being taught, went into the school during a class, and beat up the teacher. This was quickly stopped, and the teacher was taken to the hospital and the assailant was taken to the police. However, the child of this man is of a minority group, and all the children from the school left their classes and banded together to hunt down more members of this minority in the area. They jeered at these people, and at their worst, attempted to stone them.
This extreme reaction has prompted me and my housemates to have multiple discussions about what we would do in a situation of a mugging or a similar ‘minor’ offense. We don’t want people do get away with crime, but if we called out for help, the person would probably be killed or severely injured. And yet, the show of solidarity and culture of assistance that is present is something that I admire and that contradicts the response in many areas of North America, where the ‘bystander’ effect results in many witnesses and no action. The ideal reaction would be somewhere in the middle – where people take action but do not maim the perpetrator, though having a working justice system would be a huge help in that as well!
Welcome! My name is Katiana and I am a development professional pursuing my dream to live out Isaiah 1:17 to the best of my abilities. I am passionate about teaching and working with vulnerable families and children to improve their lives sustainably.
This blog is composed of my personal opinions, which do not necessarily reflect the opinion or views of institutions or organizations that I may be or have been affiliated with.