The Lost History Foundation is doing a fantastic job of trying to dig and record Malawi’s history that is either distorted or was lost somewhere in the jungle that was the one party State during the one party regime.
The foundation has started writing historical pieces on Malawi and publishing them in The Nation and MIJ Radio, among other platforms.
But the piece they published on Wednesday October 11 on Yatuta Kaluli Chisiza, Lutengano Mwahimba and 15 others who had taken up arms to wage the war on Banda’s brutal regime, was particularly poignant—and personal—for me.
On October 11, 51 years ago, the group of 17 armed freedom fighters—led by Malawi’s former Home Affairs Minister and Kamuzu Banda’s one time personal body guard—Yatuta Chisiza—fought with Malawi’s security forces. During this war, says the Lost History Foundation, Yatuta Chisiza and his Lieutenant Lutengano Mwahimba were shot dead while five of their lieutenants escaped successfully across the border; one committed suicide when nine had been captured alive, later tried at the High Court in Blantyre, hanged (except one who died in prison) and finally buried in unmarked graves in Zomba in 1969.
Ever since Yatuta’s ‘rebel’ label and his subsequent death, the Chisiza family and those linked to it, had endured an excruciating time, including being tortured by security forces, loss of jobs while others had their homes demolished.
The house that Yatuta and his brother, Dunduzu senior, had built for their parents—Chanyara and Khumbata Kaluli Chisiza at Lwezga—was a victim.
As a child, when I visited my grandmother Nyapachuma—who was an elder sister to Yatuta and Dunduzu—we often found broken pieces of glass, porcelain and art that
Had a touch of class to it.
Now, Nyapachuma was a great story teller and she would gather all of us her grandchildren to painfully tell us what happened on the day Yatuta was killed.
Later, as a teenager, my aunt, Emily Sikazwe, who was with her grandmother, Khumbata when news of Yatuta’s death was released—would fill in the information gaps.
I guess my grandmother wanted us to have that part of our history etched in our hearts to help us remember who we are and where we are coming from; how people sacrificed their lives, so that we could live better than they did.
So, here I am, trying to share what was passed on to me—at least to the best of my recollection—by Nyapachuma.
The family woke up to the news on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) radio that the Galant Malawi armed forces had killed two Zigawenga’s while others had fled. They named the ones they believed to be part of the group.
My father, aunts and uncles were so young to comprehend the implications of what had just happened, but they say they understood clearly that something tragic had happened. And so the whole day MBC kept on reporting the same story.
At one point, Khumbata asked her grandchildren and great grandchildren whether she had heard correctly that her son was dead. Her grandchildren, with the oldest aged 15, looked at each other and told her it was not true—they wanted to spare her the pain for as long as possible.
The children even proceeded to remove batteries from the radio so that Khumbata did not have to hear the painful news.
Then the following day, one of the elder grandsons who was at Livingstonia Secondary School, came home at Lwezga to break the dreaded confirmation that, yes, Yatuta Kaluli Chisiza had passed on.
My aunt, Emily, always gets emotional when she told me this part of the story on Wednesday: “We gathered around grandmother, we cried and tried to comfort her. We were told by officials who came later on that there would be no funeral of the Chigawenga; that anyone visiting would be jailed. As such, no one, not even the Church came. It was our funeral alone—just kids and an old woman, with no outside comfort,” she recalls.
“The trauma of that experience lives with all of us to-date. Grandmother was worried about her daughter in-law and her grand children who were in Tanzania. Yatuta’s wife and her two Sons—Vyande and Kwacha.”
Khumbata asked authorities if her grandchildren could be brought home from Tanzania to stay with her. She got no response, not even an acknowledgement that they had received her request.
For the family, Yatuta’s death was a fresh wound that had been opened not long after the death of his younger brother, Dunduzu, under suspicious circumstances.
For Khumbata Emily Haraba Chisiza, this was the last straw! Of her last three children, two were killed and one, a woman—Elvin Nyapachuma Chisiza—was in prison. Her crime? She was Yatuta’s sister.
How can an old woman of more than 80 years of age survive all this? Her faith kept her going even though the church at the time was not there to console her.
And for the children, what lasting impression did this pain leave on them?
This is what my aunt, Emily, told me on Wednesday: “We grew up knowing that Malawi will one day be free. That one day the story would be told and that one day Malawians will know the truth. That even though Yatu and his colleagues lay in unmarked graves, the truth will be told. Time has come for all those who know the truth to tell it as it is. One day the unmarked graves will be shrines for those who believe in freedom.”
As you can see, this one is indeed personal.