FOR GOD AND CHARITY: CHRISTIAN FOUNDATION’S BURSARY STUDENTS TELL THE STORY OF SODOMY AND DELAYED JUSTICE

BY PIJ INVESTIGATIONS

The Timotheos Foundation in Malawi was founded on June 10, 2011, in a quest to spread Christian evangelism and support the country’s most vulnerable, through among others, education bursaries to the most underprivileged children.

The foundation was a development arm of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Malawi. Today, decades later, the foundation is at the centre of one of the most horrific allegations of child sexual abuse in the country.

At the center of the allegations is a Dutch National, Wim Akster, who in 2011 responded to a call to help run the foundation. Through the foundation and support of the Dutch Timotheos Board, they were going to tackle poverty, support the communities surrounding its churches and work with reformed churches to spread the Word of God to local Malawians.

Six boys who worked at the foundation allege that they were molested by Akster, accusations that led to Akster’s arrest in August 2020…Akster denies abusing the boys, arguing all sexual activity was consensual, and has applied to the constitutional court, seeking a declaration that his arrest infringed on his right to privacy and, in effect, a declaration that the country’s anti-homosexuality laws are illegal.

As they say, justice delayed is justice denied. Two years after the matter was reported to the police, justice seems elusive. The victims feel delayed justice perpetuates their victimization. 

Little wonder, two of the victims have agreed to speak to the Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ) on what happened between them and Akster, in the hope, that it will expedite justice.

Contrary to Akster’s argument that the sexual activities were consensual, they argue they were forced into performing sexual acts with Akster in exchange for support for bursaries from Timotheos foundation and later piecemeal work at the foundation. When they refused any sexual requests from Akster, they argue, that he would threaten to chase them from the foundation. They describe Askter as a man of rage, whenever his requests for sexual favours were rejected.

PIJ is not naming the two alleged victims and others identified by others as alleged victims of Akster. Activists who were closely working with the victims say some victims whom PIJ did not meet were quite young at the time the alleged sexual abuses happened.

The first victim, born in 1998, was 17 years old in 2015 when he was selected to start a bursary at Timotheos Foundation. He was born and raised by a single-parent mother in Nsanje district in a family he describes as extremely poor. He started interacting with Akster in 2018 when he sent Akster a friend request, unsuspecting of any ill. 

“He started texting me strange things. He said, ‘I want one thing from you. I mentioned several things, but he said no! He said ‘I want a kiss from you,” recalls, allegedly, the first victim.

In 2019, while he was on holiday, Akster proposed to meet the young man at Shoprite Mall.

“He picked me up in his car, an Xrail, and started looking for a place. I was allowing him everything because I was afraid I would lose my bursary. We went to Blantyre Lodge, but he saw people he knew and didn’t book a room. We went back to Shoprite and stayed in the car. He pulled his trousers down and asked me to play with his penis. Then we went to Soche at Annies Lodge, but we found the rooms to be too expensive. I was afraid of him, I was terrified of him,” he recounted.

That day, Akster bought him an android phone (he couldn’t recall the model) and 15 000 kwacha for transport.

“In May, I went back to Nsanje. He came to Nsanje Discovery Lodge and asked me to meet him at the Lodge at night, but I refused because it was prohibited to leave the school campus at night. I went early in the morning to the lodge and found him wearing just underwear. 

“He commanded me to kiss him and told me to suck his penis. I did it,” he recalled. 

(As the first victim explains the episode, the second victim began sobbing, head down.)

He also recalled the moment the class of bursary beneficiaries was celebrating passing its Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) and Akster organized a 3-day trip to the lake for the celebrations. The students were lodged at a different lodge and Akster was at another lodge. At night, he recalls Akster sending messages, demanding that the student should come to his lodge, but he refused because the other students could be suspicious.

In February 2020, he says he was called alongside a fellow student (name withheld) to come to Akster’s home at Mapanga in Blantyre.

“When we went into the house, he locked the doors, pulled down the curtains, and started kissing me for more than three minutes. Then he kissed my friend, and he sat down and advised us not to tell anyone, including abusa,” recalls the student.

“This is our secret, I don’t want to be in trouble,” he reportedly told the two students. Then he gave them a bag of maize and 6000 kwacha. 

When the victim finally reported the matter to police, he says Akster started a smear campaign against him.

“He started spreading a rumour that I was caught having forced sex with a fellow student who has a speaking disability. He went to the student and asked him to sign a statement accusing me of sexually abusing him. He asked a few students to be witnesses in the case but on the same day, he was arrested,” recalls the student.

The second victim PIJ interviewed, who was born in 1998, was 21-year-old just out of secondary school when the sexual encounters started. He however argues that he was still on a bursary of Timotheos foundation, which was about to start supporting his college education when Akster started demanding sexual favours.

He first met Akstar in 2015 when he applied for a bursary. In 2019, he opened a Facebook account and started communicating with Akstar innocently. He says he did not know about Akster’s homosexual behaviour.

Still in secondary school, during a schools’ holiday in 2019, the victim asked for Akstar’s help to get piece work at the foundation. He was employed as a gardener and Akstar asked him to invite other friends to come and work there. A total of 9 boys came over to work.

“During the night, he used to call us to come to his house to play UNO, a game. Surprisingly, when we finished playing UNO, he would ask me to stay behind. Then he started saying ‘hug me’, surprisingly, he asked me to kiss him. For me, it was not normal for a man to ask me to kiss him. This continued to happen frequently. We endured the tribulations. When we refused to come and play with him, he would say the next morning, pack your bags and go home, you don’t want to work,” recalls the first victim.

On 6th March 2020, while the victim was seeking to start college education as a teacher, which was being supported by the foundation’s bursary, he was asked to meet Akstar in his office. And later he was asked to go to Akstar’s house later after work to collect money for relish.

“He asked me to go into his bedroom. I was very surprised that he removed his shirt and trouser and just remained like a boxer. He also told me to remove my clothes. I was so full of fear about what was about to happen. He then told me to come to his bed. Then he said, I need sex. But because I was not aware of how men can have sex with each other, I just masturbated him until he ejaculated. Then he took 5000 kwacha and gave it to me,” said the victim.

Although he was given money, the victim says he went home very frustrated but did not report the matter to anyone for fear of losing the bursary. In the middle of the night the same day, Akster texted him via WhatsApp, telling him you are so nice. 

He says Akster asked the victim to ask one of the garden boys working at the foundation (Name withheld) to teach him how to have sex with men.  Then, the next day, Akster asked him if he had met the gardener to teach him how to have sex with fellow men.

“I don’t have any proof or heard any witnesses, but the gardener is known by people at the foundation to always have sex with Wim (Akster),”

On 6th March, the youngster was also asked to make love to Akster, but the young man just ‘masturbated’ his boss again. This time, he did not give him any money. 

He said the demands for sexual pleasure stopped only after arrival at the office of Dutch visitors, who were staying at Akstar’s house, allegedly out of fear of arousing suspicion. In the end, Akstar decided to deduct, K5000 of the relish money he had previously given him from the eventual salary amount for his labour work.

Angry, he decided to cooperate with an investigation launched by the foundation. 

He says he was forced by poverty but was also intimidated by Akster and recalls that allegations of sexual abuse were widespread at the foundation even before any of the victims raised a complaint officially.

“Even my elder brother was asked by Wim to have sex with him in exchange for favours. During our time at Timotheos, when we were in form four, almost everyone knew that Wim Akster was sleeping with boys,” said the victim.

He estimated that over 9 boys at the secondary school level and both on bursaries were in sexual relations with Akster, but could not state their ages. 

“I have two friends right now, we were close but did not report. There are others as well, but did not report what was happening because they were afraid,” says one of the victims.

Prior to the victims’ complaints, by 2012, Pastor Charles Ben, who was then Chairman of Temotheos Board (served between 2011 and 2012) heard a disturbing rumour about Akster’s sexual activities with minors, particularly boys, and warned the Dutchman against any further incidents, if the allegations were true, thinking it was all a matter of cultural differences.

“Our office was in his house. I found my Vice Chairman Mr. Luhanga in the house, and he asked me to ask Mr. Akster about an issue he had heard. He said they are all lies. I just heard the issues, so I advised him that it would be ‘un-Malawian’ and the foundation was Christian. He denied all the allegations,” Pastor Ben told PIJ in an interview this week.

He says he left the chairmanship of the foundation without talking to any of the alleged victims, only for the matter to surface later on.

It was all consensual 

Akster does not deny having sex with the alleged victims. At least not in crystal clear terms. But he denies having sexual activity with minors and that he forced them to engage in the activities.

On that basis, he is challenging in the Constitutional Court, the constitutionality of the sodomy charges prosecutors want him to answer in relation to the allegations of sex with the students at Timotheo’s Foundation. His lawyers argue in court the charges are an intrusion into his privacy and, by extension, Malawi’s anti-homosexuality laws are illegal.

When initially contacted for comment through a written questionnaire, Akster refused to reply, citing that the matter is in court. He later responded to some questions, where he argued his innocence.

“As far as I have seen, I have not (had) any accusation against me from a minor,” he wrote and further denied trying to influence the victims to drop the charges against 

“Not true,” he wrote, “some of them tried to contact me, but I have denied it.” 

PIJ also sourced a handwritten witness statement purportedly written by Akster. In the statement, the Dutch national argues while he had engaged in sexual activities such as kissing and sucking with one of the victims (name withheld), the activities were consensual.

“I, Wim Akster, admit to the above-mentioned issues. I have been doing some issues with …(name withheld) like kissing, touching, and he has sucked me two times. I never told him he was going to lose his job if he refused to do so. I was thinking he did so freely and without hesitation. If I had known this, I would not have done this,” reads part of the statement.

Sex trafficking and child pornography case

The sodomy allegations were followed by allegations of sex trafficking and child pornography. In 2020 pictures surfaced of a Whiteman, whose face could not be identified, engaging in sex with seemingly five underaged girls. The faces of the girls are fully captured and traceable by those who know them and themselves.

One of the alleged girls in the photo (name withheld) provided a statement to police, accusing Akster of being the Whiteman in the photo and herself as one of the underaged girls in the photo. The girl later changed her statement, claiming she was not the person in the picture.

Four of the girls are yet to be traced by police. Activists however suspect foul play. They say police officers allowed and escorted Mr. Akster’s accomplice, Sparks Jumbe, a Blantyre-based businessman who now says he is a human rights activist, to visit the only known witness to convince her to change statements. 

Mr. Jumbe who says he is not a friend of Akster but took up the matter after noticing inconsistencies in the second case against Akster, admitted meeting the victims and interviewing them but denies offering them any money or intimidating them to drop their statements.

In the meantime, as police and activists searched for the remaining alleged victims in the picture, on May 28th, 2021, Magistrate Soka Banda of the Limbe Dalton Court discharged Akster from prosecution, arguing the state had delayed prosecuting Akster. 

Banda argued in her ruling that Askter had been arrested in November 2018 despite the court case being identified as Criminal Case No. 146 of 2020.

But before the case went into trial, Akster’s only known alleged female, withdrew her statement. And three months later, Darton Magistrate Court in Blantyre, controversially discharged Akster, arguing that the statutory period to prosecute Akster had expired.

It is a decision that shocked the High Court– where the CSOs supporting the victims had turned to an appeal following the decision.

“In the present application can it be properly contended that by the 3rd of December 2020 1h3n the application to discharge the Respondent herein was made before the lower court there had been an inordinate or unreasonable delay in the prosecution of the said Respondent? This court prefers to answer this question in the negative on the grounds that the Respondent having being arrested and arraigned on the 25th of September 2020 as per EXHIBIT VJ2 to the affidavit of Victor Jere in support of this application it is a period of less than three months which had lapsed from the date when the Respondent was arrested and arraigned,” ruled Justice J Chirwa.

The effect of the shocking decision is that the activists and victims of the sodomy cases have now grown weary that the judiciary can offer justice in the sodomy case.

“We just hope now that he should be deported,” says Eye of the Child Acting Executive Director, Memory Chisenga.

She says protracted court hearings and allegations of witness tampering have left the victims frustrated.

“We decided to take it up to fight for the children so that justice can be served, but it has been frustrating to see the progress in court. The boys have been sodomized, the girls have been trafficked. He needs to face the law,” said Chisenga.

After allegedly deactivating his previous Facebook account, Akstar has opened a new account and recently also made contact with one of the victims by liking a post of one of the victims.

Akster, however, denies attempting to reach out to the victims to withdraw the case through church pastors.

The victims say Gender and Children Affairs Minister Patricia Kaliati attempted to intimidate them from speaking out on the allegations.

The alleged call by Kaliati was recorded by the victims. A woman with a voice resembling Kaliati’s voice and calling herself Akweni, the political moniker for the minister, calls one of the victims, asking for an explanation of the allegations against Akster. 

The woman asks the victim, unsympathetically, whether the accusation he was making was something that the victim experienced or just heard about other people. The victim responds affirmatively. “Yes, it happened to me,” he responds. The woman, believed to be the minister, just says okay. The victim, sounding irritated, ask why the supposed Kaliati asked and she answered, I just wanted to know. The woman cuts the line without offering any sympathies or promises of support from the government.

When contacted, Kaliati did not respond to questions PIJ presented to her but responded via a text message, rejecting that she had handled any issues to do with Temotheo’s foundation.

She wrote: “The one who knows the issues of NGOs is Congoma. I’ve never shouted or critiqued anyone for firing anyone. That is misplaced.”

Quizzed whether she knew Akster in a follow-up reply, Kaliati did not provide a reply. 

Akster work with more children

Frustratingly for child rights activists, as the case in court has been delayed, Akster has been linked with work that puts him in proximity to children including alleged ownership of Kids of Excellence Academy, a school close to Limbe Country Club and Lukas Malawi, a foundation working in supporting children including–ironically–alleged victims of sexual offences.

But Akster denied any involvement in any of the organizations. Although there is a registration certificate that shows Akster as a partner to Christopher Luhanga in the ownership of the school. Luhanga claims Akster was removed as a partner. Although the registration appears to have been done after the cases had already started.

Another bizarre incident is that the case file for the sodomy case almost disappeared if it had not been for the intervention of the then ombudsman Martha Chizuma now director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau. 

This happened immediately after the magistrate referred the matter to the constitutional court. The case file only resurfaced after the ombudsman threatened the Registrar of the court that she would institute an investigation into the disappearance of the file.    

The Platform for Investigative Journalism is an independent non-profit media organization that focuses on cutting-edge public interest journalism. If you have experienced any child sexual abuse, report to the nearest police station and contact organisations working in support of child rights.