Turning martyrs’ families into beggars

This week we are collectively very angry. We do not know why, but we are so angry we can even chew and swallow a farm tractor. The more we introspect and try to understand our country, the angrier we get.

Do you realise that the years 1915, 1953, 1959, and 2011 are very unique and defining in Malawi’s political history? 

We don’t like giving history lessons but today we feel obliged. In case some have deliberately forgotten, we will remind them that prior to and during 1915, John Chilembwe led a bloody uprising centering around labour and human rights of the autochthons, the Nyasas, mostly those that worked in the estates in Cholo and Mlanje, and those recruited in the colonial military. 

Although the Chilembwe Uprising was quickly and harshly put down, leading to the betrayal, gunning down and secret burial of John Chilembwe, and the destruction of the Providence Industrial Mission (PIM) at Mbombwe in Chiradzulo, historians, such as George Shepperson and Thomas Price, agree that the seed the Chilembwe Uprising sowed marked the beginning of open discontent and hate towards the colonial authorities in Nyasaland.  

This is why John Chilembwe is celebrated today and, we pray, should be celebrated for centuries to come.

However, have we ever wondered and questioned why Chiradzulu (note the spelling) is probably one of the most neglected districts in Malawi?  It was neglected by the Nysaland colonial government. It was neglected by the Malawi Congress Party government. It was neglected by the UDF government, except for a token post office building constructed there and the declaration of January 15 as Chilembwe day.  Chiradzulu was also neglected by the DPP I, PP and DPP II.

Have we ever sat down to interrogate ourselves as to why Chilembwe’s direct descendants live in such poverty and have to be paraded in the media January after January as neglected Chilembwe’s family? Do John Chilembwe’s people have to be beggars?  Their ancestor died fighting to make Malawi a better society. Is their situation what John Chilembwe dreamt when he and his ‘troops’ put their lives in the line of fire?

Almost fifty years after the Chilembwe Uprising, when Nyasas, as those of us born before 1964 were called and still should be called, had learned and understood organised politics. They rallied behind the Nyasaland African Congress to demand some participation in the running of the affairs of the geographical territory we call today Malawi.  Because of this, historians have recorded the callous political killings of Nyasas from Cholo, Domasi and other places during the 1953 protests. 

Have we had time to identify those who died in Domasi and Cholo so that they are given a more decent national burial? Have we identified their families so that they are recognised as such and compensated?

Then came the 1959 massacre of unarmed protesters demanding the immediate release of Dr Kamuzu Banda, Orton Chirwa and other Congress leaders of the time who had reportedly been detained aboard the MV Ilala II.   In his yet to be published memoir, the late Dr Nga Mtafu reports that although Nkhata Bay was the epicentre of the killings, other people lost lives in Bolero, Mzimba and Karonga. Arrests and jailings were also made among protesters in Blantyre, Lilongwe and elsewhere. 

At least most of those who died in 1959 have been accounted for. Although some ministers feign lack of knowledge, the Malawi government has a list of the people massacred in 1959.

However, as the representative of families of the martyred asked during the 60th anniversary of the 1959 killings at Nkhata Bay, what explanation would we give if some or all the 30-some martyrs rose from the dead and asked us: was it worth dying for this nation? Was it worth dying for you, Malawians? What answer would we give them?

Like Chilembwe’s descendants, relatives of the 1959 massacre have complained March after March since 1964 begging for a small share of the national cake.  As Finance Minister, Goodall Gondwe, candidly put, every government before DPP II has ignored the martyrs’ families. If the martyrs’ families want anything, they should complain to and beg the government at a different forum and in different, and probably deferential, way.  In short, the minister said, ‘forget about compensation and assistance. See you March 3 next year!’

Without underplaying the political killings that happened between 1964 and 1994, the most outstanding post-independence state-sponsored mass-murder took place on July 20 2011 when over 20 unarmed protesters defending the multiparty dispensation Malawians voted for on June 14, 1993 were shot to death mostly in Mzuzu while others across the country injured.   Families of the men and women martyred and victims of police brutality during this event have been demanding compensation from the State. Have they been compensated? Do martyrs’ families really have to beg for the obvious?

Sorry. We are too angry to continue.n

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