In the run-up to Malawi’s 50th anniversary commemoration, several media representatives asked me to enlighten them on certain aspects of Malawi’s history. Some asked me why Malawians do not seem to know the history of our country before the attainment of independence.
To this question, my reply was that there are now books and magazines that deal with both pre and post-independence history. The sources are easy to access. One simply has to enquire where to find information on the episode they want to study.
Volume 6.7 of The Society of Malawi journal recently published absorbing articles, among them Colin Cameron’s assessment of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s leadership in ending the unpopular Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The article is titled The End of Federation an Achievement Worthy of Recognition. I have gone through it. I have also read with enjoyment Brian Morris’ The Rise and Fall of the Yao Chiefdoms. Among those who should read this article are teachers and students of Malawi history at the Junior Certificate and Malawi School Certificate of Education level. The study of Yao history is part of the syllabi of these courses.
Whetting my appetite and soon to be read in full is John Lwanda’s article titled Diaspora, Domicile and Debate. It is a lengthy article amply researched about a preliminary artistic and cultural search for a Malawi identity from pre-colonial times to 2014. Lwanda is a Malawian medical doctor resident and practicing in Scotland. A prolific writer on the history and culture of Malawi, his articles educate and entertain.
There are several other articles of note, but what has prompted me to cut my reading short is the name of Colin Cameron which has reminded me as a practitioner on the history of Malawi to remind Malawians names of our British friends who stood shoulder to shoulder in our struggle against the Federation which was imposed on us like slavery itself.
Cameron, a Scot, arrived in Malawi in 1957 on contract with the well-known legal firm Wilson and Morgan. Contrary to the general attitude of the European community in what used to be called Nyasaland, he began befriending nationalists and was at Chileka Airport on July 6 1958 with the crowd that went to welcome Dr Banda from his 43-year stay abroad.
Banda included Cameron in his first Cabinet during the self-governing era. After independence, he was the first minister to dissent from the prime minister’s decision to enact a law that would enable him to detain anyone without trial, which eventually became the norm during Kamuzu’s 30-year regime. Cameron resigned, thereby encouraging other ministers to challenge the inchoate dictatorship.
Cameron was deported from Malawi. Back home, he joined forces that campaigned for multiparty democracy and freedoms in Malawi.
When some historians lecture or discuss names of the heroes of Malawian struggle against the federation and for independence, they hardly make reference to the few British people who supported us and in so doing, were hated and persecuted by white settlers in Central Africa.
At the top of the list was the Anglican priest Michael Scott. He was with Chief Gomani II at Lizulu in 1953 when the patriotic Maseko Ngoni paramount was being arrested. Scott himself was briefly detained in Zambia Prison and then deported. Through his organisation, the African Bureau in London, he, for 10 years, kept on campaigning for Nyasaland’s independence until Nyasaland became Malawi on July 6, 1964.
Perhaps less known than Scott was the missionary in Zimbabwe Reverend Guy Clutton-Brock, author of a polemic titled Dawn in Nyasaland in which he defended leaders of the Nyasaland African Congress, denounced the claims of the Federation. The book influenced the minds of many leading people in Britain who were interested in the affairs of Central Africa. They read in his book that “Nyasaland is in a key position in Central Africa. It is essentially an African country, throbbing with life and the desire for self- determination”.
These sentiments were to the whites in Central Africa highly subversive. Clutton-Brock was deported, so was Rev. Tom Colvin, principal of HHI Secondary School who was suspected of issuing leaflets which denounced the Federation.
In the British House of Commons, we had Labour Party member Fenner Brockway who pleaded for Nyasaland cause.