26 February 2013

Zambia: Robbing the Dead - Has Zambia Lost Its Humanity?

Photo: Capital FM

THE dreadful Chibombo tragedy will leave an indelible mark in the minds of most readers.

What about the money and property carried by the passengers in the ill-fated bus? Millions have already been deemed stolen or lost from the lifeless victims retrieved from the mangled wreckage.

Soon after the tension had died out, though many of then are still in grief, came reports of pilfering, raising eyebrows to the inevitable: Looting!

Only after the burial ceremony of the victims did the relatives wake up to reality that it was not only life that had been lost but property and money as well!

Who could have such sordid courage of walking to such a dreadful accident scene that naturally creates an eerie feeling, not to help, but with an intention of stealing from accident victims?

Many have blamed this weird act on the high levels of poverty among the people living close to the accident scene.

Could this be a major reason why people could have turned so sordid-minded to an extent of disregarding the deceased in this cruel manner by even unwrapping dead bodies in search of cash?

When such a story is told, especially to those that have upheld traditional Zambian norms, it could easily be termed as fallacious.

Well, they say poverty can lead one into doing the unthinkable, which seems to have been the case here though once caught, another nightmare of facing the wrath of the law comes to the fore.

That is the reason why Police Chief Stella Libongani issued a stern warning to all those that might be in possession of the property looted from the accident scene to voluntarily hand it to the police.

Although police recovered some items from the accident scene, there is more to this recovery process than meets the eye.

Could this list of recovered items produced by the police be a true reflection of what the cops managed to recover? How clean are the cops' hands in this alleged pilferage?

"There are even some disturbing reports that even police officers are involved in this unprofessional act ... if we find any officers wanting in this case, we will take serious action against them because this is unprofessional," Ms Libongani warned.

This apparently has not just ended at warnings, as arrests have already been made in connection with the looted goods.

All this points to how desperate people can be. Could it be the issue of high poverty levels looming around them or just a ruthless habitual act?

So far, Police deputy spokesperson Charity Munganga-Chanda has shielded the police service stating that all police managed to recover was as tabulated:

KR38,400, US$ 100, from the pocket of the truck driver was US$3,960, 800 Rands, 20 Malawian Kwacha, 53 cell phones, three digital cameras, five laptops, one two plate cooker, electric steamer boiler, two wrist watches , one I Pad two Bibles, folders and assorted documents, wallets, suitcases and handbags.

She says police handed over all the recovered items to Zampost and is still waiting for tips from the public on anyone suspected to be in possession of goods from the accident scene.

More arrests are yet to follow with narrations from families that claim to have lost not only their beloved ones but property and money as well.

A case in point is the this story of a Ndola-based business executive Netson Mutakila whose life was terminated in the carnage.

When late Mr Mutakila, jumped on the ill-fated Postbus at dawn on Thursday, February 7, he had withdrawn KR350,000 from the bank in Ndola.

A bank statement is there to show the money he withdrew before he travelled.

It was a trip that was meant to take his business to the next level and turn his fortunes around.

He was, going to Lusaka to buy fertiliser and seed, he meant to catch an early bus to get the job done quickly in Lusaka.

He was going to come back with tonnes of fertiliser. He never made it to Lusaka as the rest is history now.

Now two weeks after the tragic accident, his money has not been recovered adding to the pain the Mutakila family is going through.

His family like several others has complained of not recovering property lost during the tragic accident.

While some have recovered some of the items, others are now crying out in pain due to the non-recovery of the money and other valuables their loved ones carried on the fateful day.

It is alleged that people from surrounding villages robbed the accident victims before police arrived on the scene.

A Kabwe General Hospital mortuary attendant was arrested for allegedly stealing from bodies of the accident victims.

The only items recovered were a ripped bag and banks statements. The bundles of Kwacha he carried disappeared.

The family suspects, a knife could have been used to rip the bag.

"We just got a torn bag which my husband used to carry the money. We don't know where the money is," said Mr Mutakila's widow Astrida.

She has bank statements to back her claim.

"There is no way the money can go missing just like. How come we only got a bottle of lotion and perfume from the bag he carried,?" she asked from her family home in Ndola's Pamodzi area.

True, it makes little sense only to recover perfume and lotion from a bag that was full of money.

All they got was a torn leather bag with an intact lock but it was torn in a place where the money was.

And daughter to the late, Bathsheba, 24, and one of the administrators to her father's estates, is saddened that the money her father carried has not been recovered.

The Mutakila family has bills and debts to pay. A lot of people, especially those Mr Mutakila did business with have been calling the family asking for the money he borrowed.

He used the family house as collateral and now the family is worried it might lose the house.

"We need that money so we can pay off these debts. Some people have brought statements to show that they were doing business with my father," she said.

Being the first born, she is also concerned about the future of her siblings' education, saying the money is desperately needed to educate her siblings.

"I think it's a sin to rob the death. Instead of reaching out to the dying souls, some people reached out for their pockets,"said Ndola Clergyman George Chibubi-Palo.

Apostle Chibubi-Palo of Harvest City Church wondered what kind of society Zambia had become, where accident scenes had become opportunities for economic survival for some.

He branded looters of lacking a sense of humanity, depriving those left behind, of income.

True, widows, widowers, children, orphans and dependents have been left behind. It is now a question of survival for them. That money can make all the difference in their lives.

"I think we are beginning to lose our humanity as a people. Where is the morality in robbing the dead?" he asked.

The clergyman believes that when society begins to rob the dead or the dying, it means that society has cast off restraint, a condition he said is deeply rooted in selfishness. Call it a guinea pig mentality.

Janet Gubule, who lost her mother Bellie Namutowe 69, is yet to recover the valuables her mother carried.

Ms Namutowe was a shareholder in a named company and that on the fateful day, she was carrying important documents pertaining to the company. In her bag were also documents of the property she owned.

"We have never recovered those documents. We only got one of her phones. The other one was missing," she said.

As for Steven Ngosa, who lost his wife Inonge, in the accident, he has recovered items and money his wife carried.

A couple days ago, officials at Zampost called to come and identify his wife's items.

"When I looked at the handbag, straight away I knew it was for Inonge. I got the phones and thye KR3000 she had carried," he said.

Mr Ngosa was quick to say, he had heard reports of families who had not recovered property of their loved ones.

He is one of the lucky ones to have gotten the items and money his loved one had on her.

Bezarial Mwaza, who lost a mother, said he recovered everything she had on her.

And the family of Michael Kasonde, who was transiting to South Africa, recovered two phones and monies he was carrying on that day.

Could high poverty levels be a major attribute to such acts of robbing the dead?

Some people have gone to an extent of digging open grave sites and stripe the corpses of their best clothes they were buried in.

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