There are 18 days before Malawians vote in the May 21 Tripartite Elections. Last Sunday, the CCAP Nkhoma Synod issued a pastoral letter titled An Opportunity to Choose a Leader with Good Reputation, Full of the Holy Spirit and Wisdom.
The letter, read in Nkhoma Synod churches mainly in the Central Region, has caused a stir in Malawi because for all its intent and purposes, it appears to be an endorsement of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) candidate Dr. Lazarus Chakwera. To top it off, unlike its famous predecessor Living Our Faith Catholic Bishops’ 1992 Pastoral Letter, the Nkhoma pastors did not seem to have consulted either its fellow pastors or congregants.
This resulted in some leaders refusing to read the letter while a few congregants were reported to have either walked out of the church or booed during its reading due to its seemingly partisan content.
Having lived through the issuing of the 1992 epistle, the Nkhoma letter indeed lacks heavy-weighted social justice components and therefore, appears weak and embedded in quick sand. In 1992, after the bishops read their letter, congregants either passed it along to their non-Catholic friends and family, made photocopies, and before police started looking for the bishops, most Malawians had not only read its contents, but were in agreement with the elements of the letter and could associate with the social justice concerns eloquently voiced.
The result was that students took to the streets to march, while labourers downed their tools and staged country-wide labour unrest strikes. This was ]Malawi’s first ever industrial discontent against the Malawi Congress Party government under President Dr. Banda. On his part, the President first reached out to the labourers to return to work, but by November so much damage had been done that a call for a Referendum was announced.
This was the work of not a handful of bishops, but a nationwide consultative matter, and most importantly it spoke to the issues at the heart of every Malawian: the bread and butter issues, also known as social justice. Speaking on these issues stirs up the people and they turn out in large numbers on polling day to choose their next leaders.
The Nkhoma Synod letter does not acknowledge what these challenges of its audience are; these are the voters, made up of women, men, boys and girls – the one who the bread and butter problems-school, health, food, water, electricity-affect the most. In its three-section epistle, the Nkhoma Synod tackles spiritual, governance, and election issues, but centres most of its ire on corrupt practices. In closing, the letter advices its members to vote for a leader who is “… full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (God-fearing).”
And just in case congregants are in doubt as to which candidate fits this tag among the Mutharika-Chimulirenji, Chilima-Usi, Chakwera-Mia, and Muluzi-Mwenifumbo teams, the Nkhoma Synod letter makes it clear.
While Atupele Muluzi does not fit on the Holy Spirit filled level; and he and Chilima are also ousted due to bullet point 2.4.
This clause states: “For the first time in the history of this nation, we have two serving members of the Cabinet; the Vice President of the Republic of Malawi and the Minister of Health, all challenging the incumbent State President under whom they are currently serving with strong allegations that this government is corrupt.” In one sweep Muluzi and Chilima are ousted from consideration.
Mutharika misses the Nkhoma Synod endorsement boat since the entire letter is written due to Mutharika administration malpractices. This leaves only Chakwera as the lone man standing.
But the letter is troubling because, without starting a religious lesson or battle, the premise the Synod stands on shoots itself in the foot because of Chakwera’s running mate Mia, who is a Muslim, albeit, a God-fearing one…
The four presidential teams have many followers, many of them within the ambits of the synod. The concerns of 17 million Malawians will cause them to head for the polling stations to elect the person they believe will take them out of the challenges they have faced these past years.
The synod should have embraced the concerns of Malawians; that would have made the synod’s letter a trailblazer like the 1992 Lantern Epistle of the eight Malawi Catholic bishops.
Long live genuine democracy! n