CHAMBO NG’UNI, Mkushi
MWITWA Farm sits on the foot of the rocky hills in Kasalamakanga area near Mkushi junction.
On this land are a few structures made of mud, sticks, grass, plastic and cardboard.
These poorly built structures sum up the hardships and struggles the settlers experience in eking a living.
It is a quiet and peaceful community. The only sound that is part of the lives of the settlers is that of vehicles going past on the nearby Great North Road.
But on Saturday, August 25, things changed. Froyda Chisenga, 57, one of the elderly people in this community, and her six grandchildren perished in a fire that engulfed the house of her daughter, Matilda Chisenga.
The house, made of sticks fastened together and plastered with mud and a thatched roof, was set ablaze by Matilda’s former husband, Obert Bubala.
Matilda’s children, Natasha Musonda, aged 10, and her sibling Ophen, 8, and their cousins Sharon Daka, 9, Kennedy, 6, and Messiah, 4, were burnt to death.
Evelyn Chibuye, aged four, who was visiting her grandmother with her mother, Mercy, also died in the fire.
Ms Chisenga had six children and 20 grandchildren.
Musonda and Ophen were picked from their father’s house by their mother a day before their horrific death.
Before the fateful night, Ms Chisenga, her grandchildren and other people in the small impoverished community went about their activities.
They were looking forward to the following day.
By 20:00 hours, Ms Chisenga and grandchildren were asleep in Matilda’s house.
Matilda and her elder sister Mercy went to visit their sister in Turn-Off area.
Ms Chisenga and her grandchildren were, however, awakened between 01:00 hours and 01:30 hours by flames and thick smoke.
They headed for the door but it was fastened from outside with a chain.
“It was around 01:00 hours when I heard people crying and shouting for help,” recalls Cipriano Phiri.
“When I looked in the direction of their house, I saw that the house was on fire. I rushed there but I was not hearing any voice anymore and the roof curved inside.”
Mr Phiri lives in the same community, and he was the first to see the small house being consumed by the flames.
Prior to the tragedy, he went to sleep around 19:00 hours because he was tired and only to be awakened by the deafening cries of help.
“What made me wake up was the crying of the people inside that house,” he says in a low tone.
Other neighbours also woke up, but had to watch helplessly as the fire engulfed the small house.
His family recently shifted to Mwitwa Farm.
When the police visited the crime scene after he reported the matter, Mr Phiri learnt that Ms Chisenga and her six grandchildren were the victims of the fire.
Their charred bodies were found lumped together in one corner near the locked door.
“I saw those children, they were quite young. I don’t think they could be faulted for anything. What has happened is a sad thing,”Mr Phiri says
Mercy, Matilda’s elder sister, is grief-stricken. She has lost her daughter Evelyn, her mother and five nieces and nephews.
When the horrific accident happened, she and Evelyn had clocked two weeks at Mwitwa Farm, where she was visiting her mother and younger sister Matilda.
“I found that my younger sister’s marriage had ended with her husband. That was on the day that I arrived at the farm,” Mercy says.
Before dawn, her mother sent her and Matilda to visit their sister (the mother of Sharon, Kennedy and Messiah) who was not feeling well.
Following the deaths, she informed her younger brothers Robert and Wilson about the tragedy.
Bubala was caught on Sunday, some hours after committing the crime. He admitted to torching his ex-wife’s house, according to Central Province commissioner of police Joel Njase.
In his confession to the police before he was slapped with six counts of murder and one count of arson, Bubala said he thought Matilda was alone in the house.
“He said he thought the woman was alone in the house and he did not know that there were children,” Mr Njase says.
“He said after he torched the house, he heard people crying inside and he ran away,” he said.
President Edgar Lungu has described the death as a tragedy which could have been avoided.
“These are children, they are angels I want to see this case investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted,” President Lungu said in a message delivered for him by Permanent Secretary Chanda Kabwe.
And scores of people, among them Mr Kabwe and Mkushi District Commissioner Luke Mwamba, mourned with the bereaved family.
Around 13:30 hours on Monday, Ms Chisenga and her grandchildren were put to rest at Chikwasa cemetery.
CHAMBO NG’UNI, Mkushi