Gruesome murder in Chienge
|Mr Kabonda nursing his wounds.|
From his ipad, Senior Chief Puta shows me pictures he took of his kapaso shortly after he was killed. The images, which are too graphic to publish, show the mangled and bloody face of Peter Muswe - his deep wounds a telltale of a savage and merciless attack.
"He was a good man," says the chief, his voice almost breaking.
Muswe’s family is shocked at the killing.
"My brother was killed like an animal," says Mwenya Muswe, younger brother of the slain royal messenger.
And at the district hospital, 60-year-old Gershom Kabonda, another victim of the brutal assault, groans with pain on his hospital bed. He is surrounded by sympathetic relatives and friends, who cannot hide their shock at the wounds inflicted on the old man. His head is all stitched up.
Mr Kabonda was hacked five times on the head with a machete by his attackers and left for dead.
"I don’t know if I will be able to eat normally again. They should have just finished me off," he says in a whimpering voice.
Mr Kabonda, who also suffered a dislocated jaw, can hardly remember how the attack evolved.
Four days after I visited him, the old man was transferred to Katumba Mwanke Hospital in Pweto, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Some who witnessed the attack, like Gilbert Mwape, talks of men armed with bow and arrows and machetes coming after them.
Mr Mwape suffered a deep cut on his right arm when he tried to help a man who was being attacked.
"He wanted to hit me on the head with a machete, but I put forth my hand and he hit me on my arm instead," he says.
Mr Mwape counts himself lucky to have survived.
"When people use pangas to attack others, it means their aim is to kill," he says.
Katele Kalumba, who is the Natende or ombudsman in the Bwile chiefdom, describes the attack as "almost satanic".
"That is not a normal way of killing somebody. We have never heard anything like that," says Dr Kalumba, who is also a renowned politician.
"That only happens in the Congo, in a place where the Mai Mai are still active," he says.
At the centre of the murder is Mwabu Kasenge, an 86-year-old headwoman who settled in the Bwile chiefdom in 1958 from the DRC.
According to historical records of the colonial government, there was no-one reigning in Zambia under the title of Mwabu, except in neighbouring Congo.
The Bwile kingdom extends to the DRC and is under the leadership of Paramount Chief Mpweto.
According to Dr Kalumba, trouble began when Mwabu Kasenge, who had been banished to the DRC before for insurrection, started undermining Mwabu Musunga Bantu, headman of a neighbouring village.
She had also formed an alliance with Mwamba Kapotwe, a man who was claiming to be the rightful heir to the Puta throne, but lost the bid in court.
There have also been reports that Chief Puta’s adversaries had hired a murderous militia from the Democratic Republic of Congo called Mai Mai.
However, Luapula Province deputy police chief Webby Shula dismisses any Mai Mai connection to the attack.
So what really sparked the brutal attack and murder of Muswe, a 40-year-old father of six?
The police chief says trouble in the chiefdom has been brewing since the 1970s.
Chief Puta says there have been many murders in the Mwabu area, mainly based on witchcraft accusations and rivalry between Mwabu Kasenge and Musunga Bantu.
In 2013, headman Mututuma was shot dead while he ate his supper at his home. He was a close friend of Musunga Bantu and had long been accused of practising witchcraft by Mwabu Kasenge.
And on the night of February 18 this year, Musunga Bantu’s wife was gunned down while she stood in the doorway of her house with her husband.
The fatal bullets were apperently meant for her husband.
The suspected assailant escaped to the DRC, but was later apprehended and brought back to Zambia by Muswe.
Following interrogations, Mwabu Kasenge’s daughter Chishimba and her husband, Lewis Mulumbwa, were named as conspirators and arrested. They were later discharged after the State entered a nolle prosequi in October for lack of evidence.
Following the failed court case, Mwabu Kasenge, who remained suspended, began building a palace in the place belonging to Musunga Bantu, escalating tensions between the two.
Chief Puta says he had informed police before sending his kapaso to stop Mwabu Kasenge from building her palace and he wonders why the police did not escort them.
According to Mr Mulumbwa’s narrative of what happened, the chief’s retainer and his group arrived in three vehicles, including a truck, armed with sticks.
"But because the people love their chieftainess and what she has done for them, they wanted to protect her," he told me by phone.
But Chief Puta says his kapaso was only armed with handcuffs.
Mr Shula denies the local police ever gave permission to Chief Puta to raze Kasenge’s palace and advises him to involve the House of Chiefs to resolve the wrangles in his chiefdom.
But Chief Puta says the matter is outside the jurisdiction of the House of Chiefs, as sub-chiefs and headmen are appointed by him and not gazetted by law.
There are currently 17 sub-chiefs serving under Chief Puta.
According to Chief Puta, a week before he was killed, Muswe and a local forestry officer had received death threats from villagers of Mwabu Kasenge’s area, where they had gone to stop the cutting of rattan, which is used to make furniture.
Mr Muswe’s family has submitted seven names, among them Lewis Mulumbwa, who they say were involved in the attack. They have also submitted a death threat sent by phone to the family by Mr Mulumbwa a day after Muswe was killed.
The fallen kapaso’s family is now seeking justice, but has lost confidence in the local police, although Mr Shula says the murder case is still active and police are still looking for suspects.
The four suspects who had been arrested, including Kasenge and her daughter, have since been released.
"We can’t keep holding people if there is no sufficient evidence against them," says the police chief.
Meanwhile, the feud continues to rage. Muswe’s family is now talking of picking up arms to avenge his murder if the police do not bring the culprits to justice.