BLANTRE--The usual everyday politics took the back-seat in the Malawi media this week as gruesome religious rituals that led to a mass suicide attempt in the commercial capital, Blantyre, dominated the headlines.
"Tragedy in Ndirande," screamed the headline in The Nation reporting on a mass suicide bid by five children belonging to the same family who threw themselves into a ball of fire they made from household items reportedly to exorcise a spell cast on them by their own parents.
Under the headline "Horrible Suicide" the Daily Times reported that prior to Tuesday's suicide, the Manda children--Lomace, 31, Etta, 27, Petros, 25, Maria, 19 and Anne, 16--had held loud night prayers at their house alongside their Ndirande Lunch Hour Fellowship members.
"The strangest thing is that the people burnt to ashes without screaming or convulsing as a person on fire would," the daily quoted a neighbour as saying after witnessing in horror as Lomace, Etta and Anne jumped into the fire. The on-lookers managed to rescue Maria and Petros who later also died.
The strange suicide did not leave the headlines for the whole week as the newspapers tried to unearth what was behind the children's strange behaviour. "My Sons Wanted To Undress Me" was the follow-up headline in The Nation quoting Margaret Manda, the mother of the suicidal children, as saying the strange events started with her sons trying to undress her as she slept as part of their strange ritual.
The father, Chawaza Manda, had a more horrible tale as he told the Daily Times that "my daughters held me, undressed me and suckled my private parts".
It seems involuntary sex was very much in the mind of headline writers in Malawi. Under the headline "Pastor Howard Fondled Me" the scandal sheet, The Weekend Times, reported that Pastor Michael Howard, the headmaster of Karibu Academy--an elite private school in Blantyre--forced himself on several of his male servants.
"He often spoke to me as a woman; he often remarked that my face was beautiful, my body was tender and that my skin was soft," the weekly quoted a former cook as recounting the American pastor's alleged numerous homosexual acts on his workers.
Another told the paper: “He removed my trousers...and he went on to apply silky oil on my legs up to my thighs. He even touched my buttocks."
Former president Bakili Muluzi (BM) also returned to the headlines this week albeit in unflattering manner. The Sunday Times, under the headline "Bill Holds Up Muluzi in SA", reported that the beleaguered former president would not return home from his medical trip in South Africa as expected because he could not raise enough money to settle his medical bill.
But the official graft-busting body, the Anti-Corruption Bureau, which wanted BM in court on September 3 to answer charges of misappropriating US $11m of donor money, would have none of it. Under "High Court Refuses to Jail Muluzi" the Weekend Nation reported that ACB Director Alexious Nampota had asked High Court judge MacLean Kamwambe to revoke Muluzi's bail and keep him in jail for the duration of the trial.
"They (Muluzi's lawyers) did not apply for extension of the period (Muluzi was given to be in hospital)," the weekly quoted Nampota as saying. "Today he has not attended (court) without any order and, according to law, that is non-compliance."
But Justice Kamwambe was sympathetic to the ailing Muluzi, who was scheduled return Saturday, and instead ordered that the former president appear in court on September 10.
The week also saw headlines about lawyers challenging the country's sedition laws in the wake of the arrest of a church minister who allegedly insulted Pres Bingu wa Mutharika at the funeral ceremony of a recently sacked cabinet minister.--maravipost