With his Homburg hats, his three-piece English-style suits, and his lion-tail fly whisk, Hastings Kamuzu Banda was one of the oddest dictators in African history. Malawi led by Kamuzu family on Thursday May 14, Kamuzu Day public holiday, celebrated the life of the country’s founding president with mixed feelings.
During the commemorations, held in Lilongwe for the first time after previously only being hosted in the late Kamuzu’s home district of Kasungu,
In his remarks, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe who represented President Peter Mutharika, hailed Kamuzu—who ruled under the one-party dictatorship from 1964 to 1994— saying he was a “visionary leader” who developed the nation.
Gondwe branded Kamuzu as a greats “statesman” who always wanted the best out of those who worked with him.
He said there are many lessons one could learn from Kamuzu such as his disciplinarian character and the decent dressing.
“We also learned the tenacity and determination to have things done. As an individual, each time I was with Kamuzu, regardless of how short [the period was], I learned something new,” Gondwe said.
The event had all the ingredients of a Kamuzu family affair.
In his speech, Bakili Muluzi, Malawi’s second president and Kamuzu’s successor, asked government to take over organisation of the event because Kamuzu was a national figure.
“Let me ask government to take over arrangements for Kamuzu day from the family because this is a very important [national] day,” said Muluzi who also worked as Kamuzu second-in-command.
“Let us leave politics aside and look ahead,” he added.
Muluzi commended the Kamuzu family from Chiwengo village in Kasungu, for organising the event and bringing unity amongst Malawians, saying that was a befitting way of celebrating Kamuzu’s life.
Besides Muluzi, Kamuzu’s long-time consort Mama Cecilia Kadzamira known as “official hostess”, former vice-presidents Khumbo Kachali (2012 to 2014) and Justin Malewezi (1994 to 1999), former Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president John Tembo and former Speaker of Parliament Louis Chimango were also in attendance.
MCP president and leader of opposition in Parliament Lazarus Chakwera, Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya, leader of People’s Party (PP) in Parliament Uladi Mussa and retired chief justice Lovemore Munlo were also present.
However, there were mixed views from people who attended the event and others in the streets.
A cross section of Malawians who Nyasa Times interviewed, mostly the older generation, remembered Kamuzu as the “ruler” who banned women from wearing trousers or mini-skirts. He prohibited kissing in public. He ordered haircuts for long-haired tourists. He censored the mail, jailed his opponents, declared himself President-for-Life and ruled Malawi for three decades until the age of 96, when his countrymen finally wearied of his totalitarian reign.
Kamuzu was an eccentric medical doctor who called himself Ngwazi (“the conqueror”) and founded an Eton-style academy to teach Latin and Greek to his people.
He is seen as the founder of Malawi because he was its ruler when it gained independence from Britain in 1964. He even coined the country’s name. Yet under his rule, thousands of innocent people were jailed, exiled or killed.
“He built hospitals, schools, universities – it’s all because of him. The roads you travel, the development that you see in Malawi today – it’s all because of this man,” remarked one MCP supporter.
“Yes, he was a dictator,” she said. “But it was an era of dictators. To err is human.”
“Most of the atrocities in that time were actually done by people around him,” she added. “When he was angry, he would say, ‘I don’t like this person, remove him.’ People would misinterpret it and torture the person and jail him.”
The Kamuzu family under the Chendawaka clan was represented by former minister of Defence Ken Kandodo, Rose Chilemba and Pastor Jane Dzanjalimodzi, among other family members.
The celebrations started with notable figures laying wreaths to the tomb of Kamuzu at the Mausoleum in City Centre where the ‘Lion of Malawi’ lies.
Ken Kandodo laid the wreaths representing the Kamuzu family who was then followed by Francis Perekamoyo who represented the Kamuzu Academy, while member of parliament for Kasungu South East, Khumbize Kandodo, laid the wreath representing the grand children.
Kamuzu, who is believed to have been born on February 15 1898, died at a South African hospital on November 25 1997. He ruled Malawi from July 6 1964 to May 21 1994.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :