Forty three job seekers from Mulanje seeking greener pasture have been stranded at Wenela Bus Depot in Blantyre since Friday last week.
The group, comprising 24 adults and 19 minors including breast-feeding babies from Chinyama Village in Traditional Authority Chikumbu in Mulanje, said yesterday they were on their way to the northern region to work in tobacco estates.
Desperation, confusion and gloom registered on their faces the time The Daily Times crew visited them at the depot yesterday.
Their bodies were sweaty and their clothes dirty, evidence that they had spent days without taking a bath, let alone washing their clothes.
In interviews, they revealed they were waiting for a middleman, whom they identified just as Mikisheni, whom they said was sent by an estate owner in Mzuzu city whose name they did not know.
"We started off from Mulanje on Thursday night using public transport and arrived here on Friday morning using our own money. We were told that from here, our prospective employer would shoulder our bus fares to Mzuzu," said one of the stranded people, Albert Matebule.
He said following transport problems as a result of communication breakdown between Mikisheni and the prospective employer, the group had been sleeping in the bus depot since Friday without proper food and beddings.
He further said the group had started off to their destination on Monday [yesterday] morning, but the police held their bus after detecting that the group comprised of no unordinary travellers, but they were released later.
Matebule said the group would continue with their journey to Mzuzu since returning to Mulanje could worsen their lives as they had spent everything they had to fund the journey.
Another member Laston Fadweck, a father of three children, who could not remember his age but looked to be around 20, said it was tough times they had been facing in Mulanje which compelled them to accept the offer.
"All the five of us are on our way to the north to work as tenants in tobacco farms. We're stuck here because of transport problems but we're sure we'll reach there," Fadweck said.
Mikisheni was not available the time this paper visited the group to give details of the estate owner.
The well-wisher who works within the depot but who asked for anonymity said he had spent about K15,000 in taking care of the group out of pity.
Blantyre Police spokesperson Lameck Thembachako yesterday confirmed police had detained the group for questioning.
"Police wanted to find out where the group which had both adults and children was going to. But after giving details of their home area and their destination, they were let free to proceed with their journey," Thembachako said.
He said the police were only interested in knowing whether the group knew their home and where they were going.
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and Centre for Social Concern, among others, have been pushing for the passing of Tenancy Labour Bill to regulate employment and curb human trafficking practices in the tobacco industry.
In one of its issue papers last year, CCJP observed that there is poaching of tenants and subtle forms of human trafficking, sexual harassment against tenants and high child labour in the country from tobacco farms.
The paper said people are being exposed to servitude in the estates where they suffer abject poverty due to unregulated procedures during the selling and buying of the tobacco by landlords.
CCJP further observed that if passed into law, the Tenancy Labour Bill— which is yet to be deliberated on in Parliament— could be the best way to protect Malawians against "uncomfortable and unfair practices within the tobacco industry".
As we went, the group was scheduled to leave by the evening bus to Mzuzu yesterday. They did not have money for their bus fares and The Daily Times was told Mikisheni was in touch with the prospective employer in the north who would pay for the fares once the bus arrives at their destination.