Remembering Malawi first president Kamuzu Banda: Malopa

On 14th May, I  join Malawians from all walks of life with all the teeming memories of the past surging back, in time to remember the official birth date of Dr Hastings Banda first president of the republic of Malawi whose name got written in the books of death in November 1997. Reasons for remembering Dr Banda vary from one Malawian to the other. From one man who single handedly was accused of various forms of crimes against humanity to a near messiah. From one who saved lives in the post second world war Liverpool to the one who condemned many to the cemetery in his country of birth.

Supporters of Dr Banda tend to place his greatness on the role he played especially helping Malawi to obtain her independence by one man as Kamuzu Banda himself claimed. To the contrary, this was a result of collective effort and by the impressive, non-violent solidarity of the people masterminded by Masauko Chipembere,Kanyama Chiumye,Orton Chirwa and many freedom fighters.

Thus in face of the onslaught of the Federal Army in 1959, and again in the  eighties by late(s) GADAMA.CHITWANGA,SANGALA AND MATENJE and early nineties, in the tense atmosphere of fear and increasing disillusionment under the despotic regime of which Banda was figurehead, the Malawi people with the help of the Catholic bishops and other brave people like Chakufwa Chihana,Joh Lwanda, Mpalive Msiska,Peter Mutharika,Meki Ntewa,Tiyambe Zeleza and many ground soldiers like Bakili Muluzi and Kamlepo Kaluwa appeared to me to have the capacity to effect peaceful change, significantly enabled by the Christian principles of
justice and peace.

Ngwazi Kamuzu Banda

Ngwazi Kamuzu Banda

My memories of Kamuzu’s last birth day on 14th may 1994 are vivid. The very buildings seemed to be sweating where they stood, that’s how hot it was in Blantyre that day. The vast sky, devoid of even a miniscule dot of cloud and bluer than any sea, hung ominously over the city. From the trees, whose leaves drooped lifelessly, came the discordant and tired strains of a cicada symphony. On the burning pavement, bare-footed people skipped along, looking for the entire world as if they were trying to run away from hell and into the mirage of cooling water which shimmered before their eyes. Not far distant up on Kamuzu highway, a vintage red Rolls Royce drove in pomp. It’s solitary engine laboring as if experiencing birth pains, drove past a bevy of women led by Mayi Tsamwa,Hilida Manja Nkhosi,Mayi Kamkodo ,from the women’s league and Dr Palmar,Mayi Joyce Banda and others from Chitukuko Chamayi M’malawi. Unlike past birthday festivities, this time, the stadium was half empty, youth rally displays scaled down and the lion of Malawi was losing its teeth. I went there purely for military parades. I still love military parades by our men and women in uniform.
Three years later, I would meet the same man at Mudi. Accompanying my father then leader of the seventh day Adventist church who had gone there to pray for him in the company of the Chimombo family singing group from nkolokosa, I saw a different Ngwazi. No sirens , no women’s league, no military parades; just a prayer band and a special song by the chimombo’s, “I have failed to be free”

“That song” shouted Ngwazi “made me feel close to Jesus” He went on to address my father “Pastor, I know I will die. But when I die, I will rise with Jesus cause that’s what the bible say” There was total silence .Leaving behind a relieved Ngwazi, a smile from mama and a wink from faithful servant Nicolas Dausi,I reasoned in agreement with one writer who suggested thus;
“You do not examine personality or leadership in the light of the benefits
it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered”

Life encircled by bodyguards and security detail, as demonstrated all through world history, though described as `power’, is in fact a paralysing form of incarceration. For thus `guarded’, the adulated captive can only hear what he or she is told, see what he or she is allowed to see and go where his or her `servants’ decide to take him.

Dr Banda was a quite exceptional person, motivated by a single- minded dream
of devoting his life in the service of his people’s health. According to his long time friend Dr Fergus Macpherson ,Dr Banda strike him as a generous person.
“Our memories of him in those years were of a highly motivated, highly educated, sincere, kind, generous and unselfish man. He moved from Edinburgh to open a one- doctor practice in one of the poorer parts of Liverpool. On a number of occasions during this time he paid the rents of patients under threat of eviction and began to set aside some of his earnings for his `African Education Fund’. Years later, when I was looking after the education of a bright young Zambian, son of a leper, Banda
responded to my request for help with secondary school fees, by under- taking to cover all the costs involved on condition only that the boy would work hard”

It must then have been in Ghana that so many of his basic convictions about the will of God, the call to Christian obedience, in moral and ethical matters and the inherent evil of apartheid, cracked.

To me Dr Banda comes in different personalities. As Akimu Kamnkhwala Banda turned Kamuzu Banda, then Hastings Walter Banda and Finally Ngwazi Dr H Kamuzu Banda who later became an ideology.

It is quite important to acknowledge the fact that at each level, Dr Banda acted differently. The question “WHERE DO YOU PUT KAMUZU” therefore needs to be applied at each and every stage
the first part of his life is so legend. He personally fought his way to achieve something. A full account is thus made by his official biographer Dr Donal Broady.

No government grant or bursary had come his way. First, hard work as a hospital cleaner and orderly in Harare, and then a spell of grim toil in a Johannesburg .Through these first years he had been engaged in
self-education which took him up to secondary school entrance level.  And this entire personal saga had, as its springboard, his dream of learning medicine so that he might one day go home and serve his own people. So many people went to South Africa and Zimbabwe and decided to get settled there.
In saying this, I am also reminded of the proverb suggesting, fortunate favors the brave. This is apparent when his life changed completely after he met very Kind and famous people like Dr. J.K Aggrey of Ghana, whom he met by accident, as it seemed, on his arrival in America; then a member of the Eastman family of Kodak fame, who provided the money needed for his history studies in Chicago; and then Mrs. Douglas Smith, the widow of one of the inventors of Pepsodent toothpaste; and others whose donations underwrote his medical studies at Meharry. This however does not undermine his personal effort which led him to become an excellent student.

The second part of his life is what has been said earlier where his personality associated with generosity amidst professional scandals.

One of the areas I like about him was a period between 1947 and 1958. Here was a man bubbled with idealism enveloped in a mystery of patriotism. In 1947, he bought his brondesbury house” Cash”(without financial help)The sole idea was to use it as a meeting place for African renaissance. Through the Sunday meetings held in this house, five people went back to their country and later became presidents. This cannot be ignored. These were acts of a great man whose eyes went beyond Nyasaland. The house is big and beautiful. Such is the beauty that the current tenant is the a senior diplomat of the government of Orman His African patriotism is further enhanced by Dr Mandela’s tributes who upon being informed of his death said “though Banda’s reputation had been affected by his links with the former apartheid government, Banda had nevertheless “done some remarkable things” for other liberation movements in Africa.

For example, he said, Banda had funded the Patriotic Front, a coalition of guerrilla armies which fought a war of liberation in the 1970s in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
Banda had also ensured that other liberation armies  in the region had the necessary weapons to conduct their armed struggles.”He did something that despite his image was unbelievable,”

However, Although Dr Banda was so passionate with his Africanisim, it would appear like, he hated many things which were African in nature. He had little trust on fellow Africans even those that were highly educated and could not stand the pain of being criticized by an African. Examples of his dislike for Africans were many; one of which was the famous “MUTU BIIII” insinuations at the Kamuzu academy implying that he cannot risk the temptation to employ black people at his Eton modeled grammar school –the Kamuzu academy.
Dr Fergus Macpherson recalls Dr Banda’s expressed revulsion when he visited his home in Livingstonia in 1958, at the facilities for bathing offered in local villages. `I hate, I hate that way of bathing, standing on sticks! surrounded by a thatched fence and open to the sky … and spiders. Oh, I hate that!’

There is simply no way I can take this. You cannot claim to be an African and say this sort of things to a foreigner who has left his western comforts to serve your community.Sadly, this mentality is in many of us living outside Malawi. I have come across many people expressing similar sentiments towards Malawi almost suggesting that things can only work if their Diaspora experience is put to test. There also insinuations by those on the ground that seem to dismiss Diaspora’s views on the basis that they don’t live in or have not live in Malawi long enough to contribute to the well being of society. That again is wrong. The political strife Malawians went through during his tenure is sad reality of our past. However in 1993, when one of his white friends confronted him with allegations of the widespread oppression and intimidation, his reply was:,

“I don’t know these things. I am isolated, quite isolated “He may well be right because I latter found out  through a conversation I once held with Prof Jack Mapanje that the atrocities perpetuated by the
infamous special branch had parallel authorities and he gave an in-depth analysis of how this happened in his  book “the crocodiles are hungry at night”. In brief, his finding reveals that there were two special branches. One which was constitutionary  answerable to Dr Banda and another one which was allegedly illegally answerable to a leading figure in the current Malawi congress party. There is further school of thought suggesting that their differences lie in the punishment which was meted out through imprisonment without trial or mysterious deaths. I don’t know which one was doing what but what I know was that Dr Banda later acknowledged that certain things were done without his knowledge. True to this theory is Dr Banda’s new year’s statement in 1996 which was purportedly released on his behalf by the Malawi Congress Party ,Dr Banda apologized to the nation for any abuses which might have been committed in his name while he was in power. Amongst other things the release said

“During my time of office I selflessly dedicated myself to the good cause of Mother Malawi in the fight against ignorance, poverty and disease among many other issues. But if, within the process, those who worked in my government, or through false pretence in my name or indeed unknowingly by me, pain or suffering was caused to anybody in this country in the name of nationhood, I offer my sincere apologies.”I believe Dr Banda as a great son of Africa who sadly allowed his weaknesses to overshadow his otherwise impressive achievements but most importantly, I enjoyed seeing him expressing his firm belief in Jesus Christ and the likely hood that he repented his sins in preparation for the second coming of Jesus Christ.Many of us who’ve had the opportunity to see Kamuzu Banda humiliated and cheer at the prospect of seeing his demise may wallow in this historic account yet fail to earn the most wanted trophy man can only envy, to die and rise with Christ lord and savior.

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