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One man’s fight against human trafficking in Malawi


This story is published as part of a series
supported by the IIE Community Justice Project


To read this story in English, click here.

Mapambano ya mtu mmoja dhidi ya ulanguzi wa binadamu nchini Malawi

Juhudi za Maxwell Matewere zimesababisha kuokolewa kwa madazeni ya wahasiriwa na mabadiliko ya sheria za kitaifa.

Mwaka wa 1998 Afrika Kusini, Maxwell Matewere alikutana na wanawake wawili Wamalawi, waliohitaji msaada wake. Wanawake hawa walikua wamesafirishwa Afrika Kusini kinyume na mapenzi yao, na walitaka kurudi nyumbani.

“Wanawake hao walihitaji msaada wa kimsingi kama vile msaada wa bure wa kisheria, lakini ilikua haipatikani,” Matewere aliiambia The Mail & Guardian. “Katika mchakato huo, nilijifunza mengi kuhusu ulanguzi wa binadamu. Masuala kama ukosefu wa sheria, miundo na mifumo ilichipuka. Nilipata hofu kua mfumo wa serikali uliwachukulia kama wahalifu na kupuuza maombi yao ya kuhitaji msaada. Nilichagua kulifuatilia jambo hilo zaidi, japo kutambua kwamba nilikua mpiganaji pekee. Mengi yalihitajika kufanywa ili kuhakikisha kuwa serikali za mitaa na za kimataifa zinatambua ulanguzi wa binadamu kama kosa la jinai. Ilikua muhimu kuhakikisha kuwa wahasiriwa wanapewa msaada, ulinzi, na utunzaji wanaohitaji”.

Tukio hilo lilikua la kugeuza maisha ya Matewere.  Alishtushwa na alichokiona na baadae alichunguza suala la ulanguzi wa binadamu, akijaribu kutafuta mbinu ambazo angeweza kutumia kusaidia.

Hii ikawa kazi ya maisha yake, kwa zaidi ya miongo miwili ijayo. Alianzisha Mtandao wa Malawi Dhidi ya Usafirishaji haramu wa Watu, Chama cha Midea Dhidi ya Usafirishaji haramu wa Watu, na makao kadhaa ya wahanga wa ulanguzi wa binadamu nchini Malawi. Pia alichaguliwa kua rais wa Mtandao wa Kusini mwa Afrika dhidi ya Usafirishaji haramu na Unyanyasaji wa Watoto (SANTAC), na hata aliandika vitabu tisa ikiwemo Human trafficking in Malawi: The untold Stories.

Malawi ni taifa Kusini mwa Afrika ambalo halina bahari, na mipaka yake ina sifa mbaya. Hii inaifanya kuwa kitovu bora cha biashara haramu ya binadamu katika nchi Jirani za Msumbiji,Zambia na Tanzania; na hata mbali zaidi ndani ya Kenya, Afrika Kusini na Ulaya. Kulingana na Ripoti ya Usafirishaji Haramu wa Watu wa mwaka 2020, ingawa serikali ya Malawi inatambua shida ya ulanguzi wa binadamu na inachukua hatua kadhaa kushughulika suala hilo, “haifikii viwango vya chini kabisa vya kuondoa usafirishaji haramu”.

Mwaka jana, wakati janga lilipotatiza safari ya kimataifa, walanguzi wengine walitaka kutumia mkanganyiko huo. Lakini juhudi za Matewere na wengine zilisaidia kuokoa wahasiriwa 681 – na kuwatia wahalifu gerezani.

“Tuliishia kushitaki kesi 42, tukapata hukumu 31, wakati wengine wanasubiri hukumu katika mahakama mbalimbali za sheria nchini,” alisema Matewere.

Kwa juhudi zake,mnamo Aprili 2021, Ripoti ya Usafirishaji  haramu wa Watu ilimtaja Matewere kama ‘Shujaa Anayetenda Kukomesha Utumwa wa Kisasa’. Pongezi hiyo inasomeka: “Maxwell Matewere ni mwanaharakati aliyethibitishwa wa kupambana na biashara ya ulanguzi nchini Malawi. Kwa zaidi ya miongo miwili, ameendeleza harakati za kupambana na ulanguzi katika nchi ya Malawi na anatambulika kitaifa kama mtaalam anayeongoza na anayeaminika kwa masuala haya.” Tuzo hiyo pia ilikubali jukumu la Matewere katika kubuni kanuni mpya za ulanguzi wa binadamu, miongozo kwa maafisa wa kutekeleza sheria, na mwongozo wa mafunzo ya kuajiri polisi.

Matewere alikua wa muhimu katika kuanzishwa kwa Sheria ya Usafirishaji haramu wa Watu nchini Malawi wa mwaka 2015, ambayo iliongeza adhabu iliyotolewa kwa wahalifu waliopatikana na hatia. “Kabla ya mwaka wa 2015 mambo ya uhalifu wa ulanguzi wa watu na adhabu yake ilikua finyu ikilinganishwa na uzito wa uhalifu. Hii ilifanya iwe ngumu kupata hukumu na adhabu iliyotarajiwa,” alisema Matewere.

Sheria hiyo pia inashirikisha msaada kwa wahasiriwa, pamoja na ulinzi wa mashahidi, na vizuizi katika kuchapisha utambulisho wao.

Kazi Hatari

Matewere anakumbuka mojawapo ya uokoaji wake wa kuthubutu zaidi: “Mwanamke aliyeitwa Maria (sio jina lake halisi) alivutwa na wakala,wakidai fursa za ajira nchini Kuwaiti.Aliishia kunaswa katika nchi ya kigeni baada ya wahalifu wake kumpokonya hati zake za kusafiri na kumsukuma kujiuza mitaani.”

Ingawa wazazi wake Maria waliileta kesi hiyo kwa serikali, na kuwasiliana na vyombo ya Habari, hakuna msaada uliokuwapo. Walielekezwa kwa Matewere kama suluhisho la mwisho. “Kwa kipindi kifupi, tuliweza kufunua wakala wa uajiri, wawakilishi wao, na waathiriwa wengine na kupelekea Maria kuungana tena na wazazi wake,” Matewere alieleza.

Kupambana na walanguzi wa binadamu inaweza kuwa kazi hatari. Matewere alishawahi kushambuliwa mara mbili: mara moja huko Blantyre, ambapo alikua akimsaidia mwanamke aliyekua amesafirishwa kiharamu kutoka Filipino; na wakati mwengine baada ya kumwokoa mhasiriwa wa kondolewa kwa viuongo vya mwili. Mashambulio hayaishii tu kwa kushambuliwa kimwili: Matewere amedhalilishwa kortini wakati anashuhudia kama shahidi wa upande wa mashtaka, na kufuatwa na umati wenye hasira kutoka kortini hadi nyumbani kwake.

Lakini anasema bado hajakata tamaa. “Watetezi wengi wa haki za binadamu walichagua kujiepusha na ulanguzi wa binadamu kwa sababu ya hatari kubwa,ugumu na ustadi wake. Inahitaji mipango mingi sana, ustadi maalum, upendo, shauku, fikra za kimikakati na mpangilio… Nataka kuwa mtu mmoja ambaye anafanya mabadiliko katika maisha maisha ya mtu, hata ikiwa niko pekee yangu.”

One man’s fight against human trafficking in Malawi

Maxwell Matewere efforts have led to the rescue of dozens of victims and changed national laws

In South Africa in 1998, Maxwell Matewere came across two Malawian women who needed his help. They had been trafficked to South Africa against their will, and they just wanted to go home.

“The ladies needed basic assistance like free legal services, but it was unavailable,” he told the Mail & Guardian. “In the process, I learned a lot about human trafficking and issues like the lack of laws, structures, and systems cropped up. I was concerned that the government system was treating them as criminals and ignored their pleas for help. I chose to pursue the matter further, only to realize that I was a lone fighter. A lot needed to be done to ensure that local and international governments recognize human trafficking as a criminal offense. It was important to ensure that victims were offered the support, protection, and care they required.

That incident was a turning point for Matewere. Shocked by what he saw, he delved into the issue of human trafficking, trying to figure out ways that he could help.

Over the next two decades, this became his life’s work. He founded the Malawi Network Against Trafficking in Persons, the Midea Association Against Trafficking in Persons, and several shelters for the victims of trafficking in persons in Malawi. He was also elected the president of the Southern Africa Network against Trafficking and Abuse of Children (SANTAC) and even wrote nine books, including Human trafficking in Malawi: The untold stories.

Malawi is a landlocked nation in southern Africa, with notoriously porous borders. This makes it an ideal hub for human trafficking into neighbouring Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania; and even further afield into Kenya, South Africa and Europe. According to the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, while Malawi’s government does recognise the problem of human trafficking and is taking some steps to address the issue, it “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”.

Last year, as the pandemic through global travel into disarray, some traffickers sought to take advantage of the confusion. But the efforts of Matewere and others helped rescue 681 potential victims – and put some of the perpetrators behind bars.

“We ended up prosecuting 42 cases, getting 31 convictions, while others are pending for judgments at various law courts in the country,” he said.

For his efforts, in April 2021 Matewere was named as a ‘Hero Acting to End Modern Slavery’ by the Trafficking in Persons Report. The commendation reads: “Maxwell Matewere is a proven anti-trafficking activist in Malawi. For more than two decades, he has advanced Malawi’s anti-trafficking movement and is recognized nationally as a leading and trustworthy subject matter expert.” The award also acknowledged Matewere’s role in drafting new human trafficking regulations, guidelines for law enforcement officials, and a police recruit training manual.

Matewere was key in the establishment of the Malawi Trafficking in Persons Act 2015, which increased the sentences meted out to convicted human traffickers. “Before 2015 the elements of the offense of trafficking in persons and the penalties were insufficient as compared to the gravity of the crimes. This was making it difficult to secure convictions and desired punishments,” he said.

The legislation also incorporates  support for victims, including the protection of witnesses, and restrictions on publishing their identity.

Dangerous work

Matewere recalls one of his most daring rescues: “A lady called Mary [not her real name] was lured by an agency, claiming it had employment opportunities in Kuwait. She ended up trapped in a foreign country after her perpetrators confiscated her travel documents and pushed her to sell herself on the streets.”

But even though her parents brought the case to the government’s attention, and contacted local media houses, no help was forthcoming. They were referred to Matewere as a last resort. “Within a short period, we managed to expose the recruitment agency, their representatives, and other victims, which led to an epic reunion with her parents,” Matewere said.

Combating human traffickers can be dangerous work. Matewere has been physically attacked twice: once in Blantyre, where he was helping a woman who had been trafficked from the Phillipines; and another time in Ndirande after rescuing a victim of organ removal. The attacks are not limited to physical assault: he has been verbally abused in court when he testifies as a prosecution witness, and been followed by angry crowds from the courtroom to his house.

But he remains undeterred, he says. “Many human rights defenders chose to avoid human trafficking due to its high level of risk, complications, and its sophistication. It requires quite a lot of planning, special skills, love, passion, strategic thinking, and organisation…I want to be that  one  person who makes a difference in that one person’s life, even if I am the only one.”

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