Today, May 14, is Kamuzu Day – the official birthday of Malawi’s first president, the late Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
Kamuzu’s kinfolk, the Chendawaka Family has organised a memorial service and a gospel music festival at Kamuzu’s home in Kasungu District.
This public holiday-albeit enjoyed by the whole nation for 30 years, was first banned when the country attained multiparty democracy in 1993 but was reverted by former President, late Bingu wa Mutharika in 2009. But it does not enjoy the same pomp it used to have when Kamuzu was alive such as the military guard of honour and parade at Kamuzu Stadium and the traditional dances later at Sanjika Palace.
That the more reason why the Chendawaka Family decided that they should organise their own activities to celebrate the life and achievement of this Father and Founder of the Malawi Nation, a title he was fondly used to be described by in his 30-year rule of Malawi.
The late Bingu, in declaring the Kamuzu Day back as a public holiday, said he always held the former Head of State with the highest esteem through the various infrastructure that speak volumes of the development foundation of this country – the Capital Hill, the lakeshore road, the University of Malawi that specialised in breeding the highly educated technocrats such as lawyers, lecturers, engineers, architects, nurses, high school teachers and doctors.
There is the grammar school, Kamuzu Academy that has greatly contributed the elite professionals in the country’s industry, the Kamuzu International Airport, the meandering Blantyre-Chikwawa and the Kacheche-Chiweta roads and the Chiromo Bridge in Nsanje that catered for both railway and vehicles. Then there is Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre which he upgraded and added to it the special wing – Gogo Chatinkha Martenity Wing, the Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe and all the hospitals across the country.
The examples are just too many to mention – Kamuzu left a legacy more lasting than bronze.
But why was the holiday banned in the first place? When people were fighting for multiparty democracy at the beginning of 1993, Kamuzu was demonised just to disenchant him from the masses because the one-party leady exuded a certain aura on his people and was worshipped as an iconic father-figure. The opposition had to demonise almost everything around him in order to entice people to vote en-masse against Malawi Congress Party for the 1993 Referendum and the 1994 General Elections.
Thus the opposition mounted attractive de-campaigning slogans against Kamuzu which won the sympathy of the masses. In their campaign, the multi-party activists included the infamous Mwanza Accident; crocodiles farms that were allegedly used as the gallows for those deemed to have crossed paths with Kamuzu; the forced party cards which denied people access to the market or get into public buses if forgotten at home if one is not willing to buy a fresh one; Malawi Young Pioneers – the paramilitary wing that terrorised innocent Malawians over petty political issues; the Youth League – the party cadres that beat up women for washing napkins on 3rd March, the Martyrs Day; the stringent dress code that sent women to jail for wearing miniskirts or trousers; the lack of freedom of speech; all these warranted as a de-campaign strategy for the opposition in order to bring sanity to a nation and to conform to the true meaning of democracy.
But, as is the culture in Malawi, the dead are always respected. When Kamuzu died on25th of November 1997, he was glorified for the good things we see and the nation was told to forget the alleged evil that was rumoured about him.
The eulogies were heart rending. The newspapers went to town with impressive headlines. Special supplements were published with catchy headlines alongside the famous public portrait of his with a lion beside him. Former South Africa President, late Nelson Mandela, described Kamuzu as a ‘liberator’, for “supporting and funding the Liberation Front in Zimbabwe” and that when Mandela was released from prison “Dr. Banda sent him a huge sum of money which he did not request for”.
Prominent lawyer Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa, then working as subeditor at The Daily Times before he went back to Chancellor College to study law, wrote a special poem – ‘Ode to D.O.F.; More than a legend” – in which he said in part: “Tradition says/Scorn him when alive/And praise him at the grave/But the legend has shown:/He was great and intelligent/From youth to the end”.
A speech reproduced in one the special editions was that he made on the eve of Independence in 1964: “We are where we are now because we believe that freedom is the birthright of Man, it belongs to him by right of his humanity, and for this we fought…Let us discipline ourselves to work hard and dedicate anew our energies in the services of this country.”
On the eve of the 1993 Referendum, Kamuzu made an historic speech in which he said: “Go about your voting procedures in an orderly and dignified manner, respecting each other as Malawians have always done. You should all remember that how you conduct yourselves during and after the referendum is most important since it will not only show our level of maturity as a nation but whether we move forward as a nation or degenerate into chaos. We should remember that the greatness of a nation derives from the worthy actions of its people.” He signed off by his usual salutation: “Bwanas and Donas, you have my best wishes”.
After all eulogies were made, the country stood still as the reverie reverberated at his final resting place at Capital Hill, which once was called Mphungu Village and where lies the Kamuzu mausoleum, complete with a statue – courtesy of late President Bingu wa Mutharika – who reignited Malawians to continue holding Kamuzu with the highest esteem he deserves by bringing back the Kamuzu Day holiday.
Kamuzu Academy, the top grammar school that he founded in 1981 has the motto, ‘Honor Deo et Patriae’ (Latin for Honour your God and Fatherland) – it teaches patriotism and giving thanks to God for the precious gift of life. In celebrating the life of Kamuzu, Malawians honour their God for the life of the Father and Founder of the Malawi Nation.
May he ‘Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine et lux perpetua luceat eis’ Latin for ‘rest in God’s peace’ as said by as Kamuzu Academy Trustees and the Board of Governors in the condolence message they placed in the The Daily Times of December 3, 1997Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :