Documenting the 1967 uprising

Historian and labour researcher Paliani Chinguwo and lawyer Bruno Matumbi have embarked on a journey to tell a story which has rarely been told.

They are calling themselves individuals with a passion for history who have come together to correct the country’s history.

Chinguwo says: “The realisation is that after the Cabinet crisis of 1964, for 30 years or so, many aspects and figures in our history were purposefully distorted, misrepresented and concealed to suit some selfish ambitions.”

The production of their documentary titled October ’67 Mwanza War will highlight some details which many Malawians do not know about the 1967 uprising, which culminated into 14 deaths in Mwanza District.

Interviewing Jiya (far left) at the Mwanza battlefield

During the time, Malawi Army (now Malawi Defence Force) fought against a group of rebels led by Yatuta Chisiza and his lieutenants JB Kennings Msiska and Lutengano Mwahimba. Chisiza and Mwahimba plus 12 others did not survive. Msiska was among the four who managed to escape.

Since February 2016, Chinguwo and his team having been doing research to tell the story that surrounded events during the 1964 Cabinet crisis which led to an uprising three years later.

He says: “It is one of the stories that has never been told fully. So, we are going deep to understand the background of the war, the combat itself and its legacy. This project is essentially about putting all that into motion pictures.”

The production crew has interviewed several individuals who were close to the happenings that time, including family members of those who were actively involved in the war.

Revered media personality Alaudin Osman, who was one of the journalists who covered the uprising while working for the Daily Times, was among the interviewees. He shares his experience of how it was covering the events as a journalist, the atmosphere inside the newsroom and outside.

“He had the chance to go to Mwanza during the war and interviewed the Malawi Army soldiers, including the head of the army Paul Lewis,” says Chinguwo.

Others interviewed for the documentary

are Frank Jiya, the only surviving combatant among the 17 rebels who were led by Chisiza. The crew travelled with him to the battlefield where the fighting took place in Mwanza.

Insurer Stain Singo, son to Malawi Police  Service officer in-charge at Mwanza Police Station during the ‘war’, has been approached too. His father was the first security officer to encounter the rebels upon their entry into Malawi.

The brains behind the production had initially planned to release the documentary by July this year, but logistical challenges and the delay and absence of some key informants are likely to delay its release.

“Some records and information that we requested from relevant institutions such as the High Court of Malawi, Malawi Prison Service and Malawi Defence Force are not being provided in time as per our plans. We understand because these institutions also need to discuss and dig in their archives to assist,” he says.

The team is also appealing to any individuals who may have information about the October ’67 War or know any relatives of the ‘rebels’ or soldiers who fought in the ‘war’ to come forward with the information.

Willie Zingani, a veteran journalist, writer and researcher, described the move as a welcome development for Malawi. He, however, said it is important that the documentary should depict the truth about what really happened.

He said: “So many elements of our history are not documented. The new generation is not even clear on our history. It is a pity that even students going for master’s degree struggle to get information about what happened during the uprising.

“And the story about Yatuta is very personal. You know he was the bodyguard to Kamuzu Banda and he went with him to Gweru Prison. And later he led an uprising against Kamuzu. Some amount of discipline needs to be exercised in re-telling the story.”

He contends that he wishes if more could be done in preserving the country’s pieces of history so that even scholars can benefit from it and not just relying on hearsays, unofficial and unverified versions.

“Even the story about Kamuzu Banda is not ostensibly clear.  We are told he walked all the way to Rhodesia, but these dots need corroboration,” Zingani said.

Desmond Duwa Phiri, a historian writer and economist popularly known as DD Phiri, also welcomed the idea: “People can always draw lessons and learn from what happened during that time as we move forward.”

Conleith Sellenje, an educator based in Zomba, is a researcher for the documentary which is being produced by FilmLab in conjunction with Dawg Fish Entertainment.

The producers have revealed that they will be doing the documentaries in series starting from the colonial era up to somewhere around 1994. n

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