The Blantyre Magistrate’s Court on Thursday found People’s Land Organisation (PLO) leader Vincent Wandale guilty on three counts of conspiracy to commit a misdemeanour, unauthorised use of land and criminal trespass in which the court has convicted him but acquitted his accomplice, Tendai Nsikita, of the same charges.
Wandale was arrested on September 3 in Lilongwe in connection to an incident that happened on September 1 at Conforzi Tea Estate in Thyolo where hundreds of villagers invaded the estate and started sharing land for permanent settlement and cultivation.
Senior Resident Magistrate Thokozani Soko said she convicted Wandale on all three counts after she found that he aided, abetted and encouraged people to encroach Conforzi Tea Estate as shown in the official notice presented in the court regarding the planned encroachment which the people ‘mistakenly’ believe belongs to their forefathers.
She said Wandale failed to justify his bonafide ownership to the said land which could have seen the passing of the land from one generation to another.
Soko further said the fact that other accused persons pleaded guilty to the charges means that the land belonged to Conforzi. She also said Wandale failed to follow proper channels to resolve land issues in the district.
Southern Region Prosecuting Officer David Mtete, prayed to court to impose a stiffer sentence, “particularly an immediate custodial sentence, even though he is a first offender.”
The prosecutor said the court should take into consideration that “it was an organised crime,” and that the conduct of Wandale “could have led to the encroachment of all tea estates in the district, thereby affecting the economy of the country.”
However, his Wandale’s lawyer Michael Goba Chipeta asked the court to apply a humane face in passing the sentence.
“Land is a major issue in Thyolo and the government is not willing to address it. My client has found himself on the wrong side of the law because he wanted to address an issue that the government is not interested to solve. I, therefore, pray that the court should apply lenience and give him suspended sentence,” said Chipeta.
Magistrate Soko has since set Tuesday, November 8 for sentencing
Meanwhile, speaking to reporters outside the court Wandale remained defiant, saying he would appeal and fight on to enable the people of Thyolo and Mulanje reclaim their land from estate owners.
“I maintain my stand that we are a sovereign State and have freehold of all land belonging to United States of Thyolo and Mulanje [Must]. I do not care whether the court recognises it or not. We will also be taking this issue to the International Criminal Court [ICC],” said Wandale.
“The government of Malawi cannot force allegiance from the people of Mulanje and Thyolo. It has lost the trust of the people. We will claim back our land that was stolen from our ancestors by the whites,” said Wandale.
He said his client’s actions were not motivated by personal gain but rather to find a solution to the long standing issue of shortage of land in Thyolo and Mulanje.
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