An ode to the July 20 Malawi martyrs

By Wise One From The East

The scene is set in Malawi. Wise One from the East comes accross a crowd of people mourning the protesters shot dead by Malawi police on July 20. The mourners are a bewildered lot, government propaganda machinery is telling the world that there brothers, fathers, sons killed – unarmed – were criminals.

Wise One:
Friends, Malawians, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury the July 20 martyrs, not to praise them.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with July 20 Martyrs.

The noble Mutharika,
Hath told you they were criminals and looters;
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously have our 20 countrymen answer’d it.

Here, under leave of Mutharika and the rest–
For Mutharika is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men-
Come I to speak at the July 20 martyrs funeral.

They were my friends, faithful and just to me;
But Mutharika says they were criminals and looters;
And Mutharika is an honourable man.
These dead July 20 heroes, those of age on May 19, 2009, voted.
Whose face on the ballot paper did they tick?

Did this in the case of the July 20 martyrs make them criminals?
When everybody in Malawi cried for better governance, they wept.
Criminal hearts should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Mutharika says they were looters;
And Mutharika is an honourable man.

You all know that in Malawi criminals are apprehended, tried and sent to prison
If they were criminals why were they not arrested and taken to a court of law?
Some of the martyrs were actually shot dead far from the scenes of looting going about their daily business. Was going about their daily business criminal?
Yet Mutharika says they were criminals;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.

I write not to disprove what Mutharika spoke,
But here I am to write what I do know.
All the martyrs were well loved by you as friends and family, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for them?
O judgment! thou art fled to a despotic beast!
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with each and every one of the July 20 martyrs,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

First Citizen:
Methinks there is much reason in his sayings.

Second Citizen:
If thou consider rightly of the matter, the July 20 martyrs have had great wrong.

Third Citizen:
Have they, fellow Malawians? I fear Mutharika and his police will butcher us all.

Fourth Citizen:
Mark’d ye his words? In Malawi criminals are arrested, tried and sent to prison,
Therefore ’tis certain they were not criminals.

First Citizen:
If it be found so, then we are in deep shit.

Second Citizen:
Poor soul! his eyes are red as fire with weeping.

Third Citizen:
Now mark him, he begins again to write again.

Wise One:
But yesterday the words of the July 20 martyrs might
Have stood against the world; now they lie dead.
And none so poor to do them reverence.
O Malawians, if I were disposed to stir
Your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage,
I should do Mutharika wrong, and Mukhito wrong,
Who, you all know, are honourable men:
I will not do them wrong; I rather choose
To wrong the dead, to wrong myself and you,
Than I will wrong such honourable men.

But here’s a parchment sealed with the blood of the July 20.
I found it at their mass grave, ’tis their will:
Let but the commons hear this testament-
Which, pardon me, I do not mean to read-
And they would go and kiss the dead july 20‘s wounds
And dip their napkins in their sacred blood,
Yea, beg a hair of them for memory,
And, dying, mention it within their wills,
Bequeathing it as a rich legacy
Unto their issue.

Fourth Citizen:
We’ll hear the will: read it, Wise One!

The will, the will! we will hear the July 20‘s will.

Wise One:
Have patience, gentle friends, I must not read it;
It is not meet you know how they all loved you.
You are not wood, you are not stones, but men;
And, being men, bearing the will of the martyrs,
It will inflame you, it will make you mad:
‘Tis good you know not that you are his heirs;
For, if you should, O, what would come of it!

Fourth Citizen:
Read the will; we’ll hear it, Wise One;
You shall read us the will, the July 20 martyrs‘ will.

Wise One:
Will you be patient? will you stay awhile?
I have o’ershot myself to tell you of it:
I fear I wrong the honourable men
Whose guns shot the July 20 martyrs; I do fear it.

Fourth Citizen:
They were butchers: honourable men!

The will! the testament!

Second Citizen:
They were villains, murderers: the will! read the will.

Wise One:
You will compel me, then, to read the will?
Then make a ring about the corpses of the martyrs,
And let me show you them that made the will.
Shall I descend? and will you give me leave?

Several Citizens:
Come down.

Second Citizen:

Third Citizen:
You shall have leave.

Wise One comes down

Fourth Citizen:
A ring; stand round.

First Citizen:
Stand from the hearse, stand from the bodies.

Second Citizen:
Room for Wise One, most noble Wise One.

Wise One:
Nay, press not so upon me; stand far off.

Several Citizens
Stand back; room; bear back.

Wise One
If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
You all do know these clothes now bloody from their blood needless spilt: I remember
The first time ever they put them on;’Twas on May 19, 2009,
The day they lined up and voted for Mutharika and his DPP MPs.
Look, in the places where Mukhito’s shots run through:
See the holes Mukhito’s cruel bullets made:
Following to the letter Bingu’s shoot-to-kill policy!

Mark how innocent blood flowed,
Their blood gushed out not believing that this was the action of their own choice;
That this was the thank you they deserved for voting for Mutharika on May 19, 2009;
For Mutharika, as you know, was their choice:
Judge, O you gods, how dearly these people loved him!
Ingratitude, more strong than despot’s arms,
Quite vanquish’d them: then burst their tender hearts;
And, their clothes red with blood,
in Lilongwe, Mzuzu, and Blantyre they, one by one, they fell.

O, what a fall for each of them was there, my countrymen!
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down,
Whilst corrupt and bloody tyranny flourish’d over us.
O, now you weep; and, I perceive, you feel
The dint of pity: these are gracious drops.
Kind souls, what, weep you when you but behold
our brothers vestures wounded? Look you here,
Here they lie, killed, as you see, by our own police.

First Citizen
O piteous spectacle!

Second Citizen
O noble martyrs!

Third Citizen
O July 20 you are an woeful day!

Fourth Citizen
O tyrant, villain!

First Citizen
O most bloody sight!

Second Citizen
They will be revenged.

Revenge! About! Seek! Burn! Fire! Kill! Slay! Let not the tyrant continue to rule!

Wise One
Stay, countrymen.

First Citizen
Peace there! hear the Wise One speak.

Second Citizen
We’ll hear him, we’ll follow him, we’ll die with him.

Wise One
Good friends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up
To such a sudden flood of mutiny.
They that have done this deed are honourable:
What private griefs they have, alas, I know not,
That made them do it: they are wise and honourable,
And will, no doubt, with reasons answer you.
I come not, friends, to steal away your hearts:
I am no orator, as Mutharika’s Ntaba is;
But, as you know me all, a plain blunt man,
That love my friends; and that they know full well
That gave me public leave to speak of them:
For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
To stir men’s blood: I only write right on;
I tell you that which you yourselves do know;
Show you your brothers wounds, poor poor dumb mouths,
And bid them speak for me: but were I Ntaba,
And Ntaba Wise One from the East, there were a Wise One
Would ruffle up your spirits and put a tongue
In every wound of the July 20 martyrs that should move
The stones of Malawi to rise and topple a dictator.

We’ll demonstrate, we will march to the State House!

First Citizen:
We’ll conduct a vigil.

Third Citizen:
Away, then! Let us go ahead.

Wise One:
Yet hear me, countrymen; yet hear me speak.

Peace, ho! Hear Wise One. Most noble Wise One!

Wise One:
Why, friends, you go to do you know not what:
Wherein hath the July 20 martyrs thus deserved your loves?
Alas, you know not: I must tell you then:
You have forgot the will I told you of.

Most true. The will! Let’s stay and hear the will.

Wise One:
Here is the will, and sealed by the blood of the July 20 martyrs.
To every Malawian they give,
To every several man, freedom from corruption, dictatorship and tyranny.

Second Citizen:
Most noble martyrs! We’ll revenge their death.

Third Citizen:
O royal martyrs!

Wise One:
Hear me with patience.

Peace, ho!

Wise One:
Moreover, they have left you ALL MHC Houses that were looted,
Ndata Farm built by Mota Engil by inflating the true cost of the Nsanje Slab,
For expectant mothers, they have increased their monthly budgetary allocation by MK1.3 million – from you know where,
and to you and your heirs for ever,
To participate meaningfully in the development of the country.
Here were July 20 Martyrs! When come another?

First Citizen
Never, never. Come, away, away!
We’ll bury their bodies in the heroes acre,
And bring to account everybody assocaited with their deaths!
Take up the bodies.

Second Citizen
Go fetch fire.

Third Citizen
Pluck down benches.

Fourth Citizen
Pluck down forms, windows, any thing.

Exeunt Citizens with the bodies

Wise One:
Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot,
Take thou what course thou wilt!

Enter a Servant

How now, fellow!

Sir, the Public Affairs Committee, Civil Society Organizations, and political party representatives are here in Lilongwe.

Wise One:
Where are they?

At the house of parliament.

Wise One:
And thither will I straight to join them: They come upon a wish. Fortune is merry, And in this mood will give us any thing.

I heard them say, Mutharika and Mukhito
Are now locked up at Maula.

Wise One:
Bingu and Mukhito will, sooner or later, meet the ghosts of these martyrs, just as Brutus met Caesar’s ghost at Philippi.

  • (C) Copy right acknowledgement: Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Tidzikumbukira  – Allan Ngumuya’s rendition of the Roman Catholic dirge.


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