A village in Machakos County was Saturday thrown into confusion after the body of a woman that had been lying in a mortuary was hurriedly buried even as two groups battled to have the last word on where she would be interred.
Two of her stepdaughters were beaten to the tape by a group of people described by a court in Nairobi as “vultures”, who buried Beatrice Syokau Kathumba in less than 10 minutes, in a ceremony that was boycotted by locals.
The stepdaughters, Litha Kathumba Kathuma and Amina Mbula Mutua, had on Friday afternoon moved to court to obtain orders barring the burial, but no order was issued. The hearing is set for Monday.
Local administration officials declined to intervene, but were on the lookout in case of violence.
Mr Titus Murugu, the Deputy County Commissioner for Kathiani Sub-County, Machakos County, said his officers were on standby to ensure peace prevailed.
“There was no court order for us to intervene, but we ensured that there was peace. The mortuary said they will carry the burden of releasing the body. Any aggrieved party can move to court. We followed the law,” he said.
The late Beatrice Syokau Kathumba had died in unclear circumstances in 2014 and her body had been lying in mortuary until an inquest report to her death was delivered last week.
She was the only surviving widow of John Kathumba Makutha who in his heyday owned huge chunks of land near the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
The patriarch was a Mau Mau detainee and was at one time incarcerated alongside Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and upon release he went on to acquire huge chunks of land near JKIA. He died in 1989, leaving behind two widows. The first wife, Esther Nzula, died in 2009.
The late Nzula was also buried amid acrimony and her daughters Litha and Amina had to obtain court orders to bury her.
In July 2014, the same group that buried Syokau had picked the body from Kenyatta National Hospital mortuary, but were intercepted by the two sisters with a court order barring the burial.
The body was then taken to Machakos Funeral Home where it was lodged under Mr Michael Saiva and Ms Litha as signatories. When it was picked Saturday for burial, Ms Litha did not sign.
In September 2015, the director of public prosecutions directed an inquest be held on the circumstances surrounding her death and hearings started a year later.
Last week Makadara Chief magistrate Heston Nyaga stated that the late Syokau, who was 89, had died of natural causes. This was after medical experts had said she had a terminal disease. The magistrate also called on the family to have her interred without further delay.
Mr Dickson Wambua and Mr Saiva this week obtained a permit from the Mitabooni chief to hold public gatherings ahead of the burial.
The inquest in the Makadara Law Courts had described the duo as opportunists interested in inheriting the estate of the late Syokau Kathumba. During the hearing, Ms Litha and Ms Mutua had said in their evidence that the late Syokau had been abducted in 2010 and killed in 2014 by unknown people so that they could inherit her property at Embakasi.
“In the course of the trial it became apparent that the deceased was the centre of attraction from all quarters. All manner of people were attracted to her in the belief that she was the “owner” of a parcel of land at Embakasi, Nairobi. It must be worth billions of shillings by today’s valuation. Like vultures circle a carcass in the wild, people who are not even relatives of the deceased took centre stage in planning for the burial, which was stopped twice by the court. These people were only interested in what the deceased stood to gain in her court case, in which she sought to be recognised as having an interest in the land,” noted the chief magistrate in his inquest verdict.
He noted that Mr Wambua had stated that the deceased had given him power of attorney when she was alive.
“Dickson said that he quit his job at a law firm in order to take care of the deceased.
He admitted that the deceased was not related to him in any way. What was he to gain from this?
The power of attorney that was donated to him was exactly what he wanted, to be close when the land became available,” he stated.
The magistrate said that there were individuals who had been ready to spend their money in defence of the deceased and even collecting money from her properties yet they were not remotely related to her.
During the hearing, Mr Saiva had stated that the late Syokau had introduced him to Mr Wambua and that he (Wambua) was to “manage her affairs while ill”.
Mr Wambua had described himself as a court process server and had been introduced to the late Syokau by a certain Pastor Yegon.
Additional reporting by Stephen Muthini