Rumphi First Grade Magistrate Court has sentenced a 34-year- old man to 42 months Imprisonment with Hard Labour (IHL) for torching a Vwaza Wildlife Reserve motorcycle.
The court heard that on 5th April, 2017, a community member, Joakim Nkhamba, 35, from Kamalang’ombe Village in Traditional Authority Mpherembe in Mzimba District went missing but was later found dead and floating on Lake Kazuni.
Community members suspected that he had been killed by Vwaza Wildlife Reserve rangers after catching and severely beating him on suspicion of poaching.
After the deceased’s body had been taken to his home village, rangers continued with their normal duties of patrolling the protected area amidst great tension in the area.
But upon reaching Vwandamile, an area where the deceased came from, a group of villagers confiscated the motorcycle registration number MG 159 from two rangers and took it to the funeral house.
Then on 6th April, the burial day of the deceased, Wongani Mkandawire (accused) took the impounded motorcycle from the funeral house to the graveyard and set it ablaze on top of the deceased’s grave.
After the incident, Mkandawire was on the run for seven months and was arrested in October, 2017 before being charged with an offence of arson of maliciously damaging government property.
Police Prosecutor Michael Paulino pleaded with Magistrate Phiri to impose a stiffer sentence to Mkandawire, saying his actions had caused mobility problems for wildlife officers.
“Poachers will be roaming and hunting freely in the protected area because there will be no patrols due to the absence of the motorcycle. This will make the reserve less attractive to tourists who bring foreign currency to the country,” Paulino said.
In his two-hour ruling, First Grade Magistrate Cuthbert Phiri observed that the burning of the motorcycle by the accused had left government with big financial loss.
He said such assets are hard to acquire as they are expensive. He said in most cases, government normally receives such property as part of support from donors.
“The Malawi Government has lost and it will be difficult to replace the motorcycle because most of the times, it relies on donors for such support. This will also create gap in the protection of animals by officials at the reserve,” Phiri said.
In mitigation, defence lawyers Gift Nyirenda and Bracious Kondowe asked the court to exercise leniency, saying the accused was first offender and a breadwinner for his family whose members will suffer if he is jailed for long.
But Magistrate Phiri said the appropriate sentence was 42 months IHL to deter would-be offenders.
Mkandawire hails from Chikwatu Village in TA Mpherembe’s area in Mzimba District.
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