Chakufwa Chihana was a patriot and freedom fighter: Politician Dan Msowoya remembers Malawi’s pro-democracy hero

Ten years ago on June 12, 2006 a dark cloud fell on the Malawi nation when the nation was bereaved of its son, an iconic gentleman and a patriot. His mortal remains were laid to eternal bliss at Kawiluwilu estate in the City of Mzuzu. There are those of us who fathom the significance of recognizing this day and occasion, as we convened on these grounds to commemorate the immortal soul of a patriot and a hero. We also met there to say a fond farewell to a fellow human being, a parent, a friend, a leader.

Chakufwa Tom Chihana is a name that is associated with multiparty politics of Malawi
Chakufwa Tom Chihana is a name that is associated with multiparty politics of Malawi

In that moment of parting, each one of us remembered many little things about Chakufwa Chihana that constituted part of the whole picture that now forms the biography of this departed man. Because he was a mortal man, as human as you and I, the biography of Chakufwa will tell a story of positive things and negative things, of his victories as well as defeats.

However there were some among us who spitefully opposed him while he lived and continue to do so even as he lies in his grave. They would wish to indulge in a horrid search for those negatives they believe are important to their unrelenting struggle even against the departed. These are individuals who in their unceasing struggle to render null and void what Chakufwa stood for, and would wish to furrow beneath the mound of his grave to find those negatives.

But some of us who had the privilege to experience the patriotism and compatriotism of Chakufwa Chihana and his hopes of a resolute Malawian society; his disappointment by the casual and subservient outlook of our society, his successes and his failures, will walk a different road. We shall for ever recall the millions of things, huge and little that Chakufwa did, that still define him as our true friend who cared, a compatriot and a leader.

Chakufwa lived a life during a period of upheaval in the history of our country. This time was a moment of despair, a time of heroic efforts and unprecedented sacrifices. It was a time of massacres and a savage attempt to silence those who stood up for freedom of conscience. It was an era of historic decisions, the moment when those who lived and had a conscience had to take epoch-making resolutions.

I have no doubt in my mind that the biography most of us have written in our hearts and minds tell a story of a man of courage. This is a man who had had youthful years and mature accomplishments; a thinker, and not reflector of other people’s ideas. This biography will relay a message about a man of action, paint a picture of a person loyal to his cause, his fellow fighters, obedient to his conscience and who followed his instincts. These attributes provide a clue about the sacrifices he made.

This biography will also make clear to all who care to listen that Chakufwa was truly human, because he laughed and cried. He could rejoice and despair. He played and worked, as much as he loved and hated.

Chakufwa could hang about and admire the beauty of the material world, while bracing himself to understand the pains in the frozen images of lynching that characterized this nation for 31 years. I had the rare privilege of representing the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) at very high profile conferences. And in the process I secured an opportunity for Chakufwa to travel to Sun City to attend a NAFCOC conference sponsored by Sanlam, and  I accompanied him. He was so captivated by the splendor and tranquil of Sun City that he chose to have me attend the Conference while he dawdled on the grounds of Sun City, appreciating and admiring the beautiful panorama of this breathtaking resort. He called that a “Christmas gift” in advance.

That was his habit even here at home too when he would go to his resort in Chombe. He loved life, while accepting that the price for a life of liberty might be death. When we sum up all the little fragments in each of our minds, we will each come to the conclusion that there once lived a man who was a true patriot.

Therefore circumstances pertaining to our transition from one party dispensation the current multiparty system hereby decree, even as a moral imperative that Chakufwa Tom Chihana must be remembered and honoured for the work he did as a political liberator in his own right, and as a member and leader of the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD), the architect of Malawi’s democratic dispensation. It is normal that those who do not know, especially the young and upcoming citizens will ask questions about what he did and/or how he did it. The short answer is he wanted Malawians to decide if the one party system of government with a President for life was still viable or not, in a nation of Millions as well as highly educated men and women.

He took his place in the whirlpool of mass action and unarmed resistance to protect life and restore human dignity; but never to stage a coupe d’état against a government as many conceited of the lot in that system used to propagate. Chakufwa loved humanity more than the destructive logic of war.

In the name of all the fallen heroes just to mention a few, and all those we venerate of the fearless fighters, patriots and pride of our land:

  1. Late Dr. Denis Simphawaka Nkhwazi
  2. Late DrMorton Chipimpha Mughogho
  3. Late DrMapopa Chipeta
  4. Late DrMatembo Nzunda
  5. Late Barnett Mtonga
  6. Late Reverend Pat Banda
  7. Late Mai Hawa Ng’ombe Ten
  8. Late James Limbe
  9. Late Harry Chiume
  10. Late Reverend Aaron Longwe
  11. Late Simon Pamdule
  12. Late McNight Machika

I want us not to continue bathing in our grief, or indulge in sorrow that speaks of an adored object lost forever. Death of this great son of the soil together with his fellow compatriots should not leave the impression that all has been lost.

The truth is time will forever tell the story of Chakufwa Chihana. It will speak of him as the architect of the democratic future of Malawi. Truth will say that because of what he did, and that point has been established. His sacrificial efforts and logical approach secured general Amnesty, the exiles returned home, and ultimately Malawians can consider themselves relatively free.

Time will also broadcast a tale that  once upon a time we had one among us, our own son who made it possible for us to regain ours status as bona fide Malawians, at least in principle. It will also say that his body was subject to the dictates to which all that are made of flesh and bone must succumb. It is harsh reality beloved fellow citizens that death is not possible unless there has been life, and life is not possible unless it is built-in within the cycle of death.

Chakufwa was snatched from among us. Sadly, we seem to have long forgotten about him. The songs we composed for him have been revised to carry other people’s names, influenced by most of who never encountered state reprisal for demanding civil liberties. The nation is aiding and abating an ugly culture of greed and selfishness, bigotry and tribal prejudice, the very crimes against humanity that Chakufwa and his colleagues disdained and consciously targeted for prevention.

We needed to build a monument, at least at Katoto Freedom Park as the birth place of the revolution. Chakufwa has a place as one who played his part for us to progress this far. He must remain a visible particle in our continuous movement towards the unfathomable eternity of the evolution of this nation and society as we work to sustain our flight from all manner of exploitation and enslavement. Chakufwa and AFORD will remain the genesis of the democracy we distort today, even by the elite in our midst.

Chakufwa has not died. Together with his fellow fighters they have given us freedom and dignity as a people. And his spirit should and must impel us and most particularly the leadership of the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD), to constantly honour what he stood for.  Through AFORD he must be communicating to this nation his instructions on how to sustain the democratic gains we have made.

Chakufwa openly refused to be part of the new script of “Misleaders” by criticizing corruption in government. That led to the end of the UDF-AFORD Coalition government in July 1996. He quit his job as Second Vice President, and to his amazement this resolve of the party based on values, principles and conviction was shunned by some of his cabinet colleagues who were adamant and insensitive to the long term effects of corruption.

They defied the odds and echoed the UDF in scoffing at him and they altogether repudiated the resolution of the party convention to end the Coalition government. They retained recalcitrance of their attitude, arguing that no one eats principles, implying Chakufwa needed to just get along with the flow.

The Late Reverend Dumbo Lemani once described Chakufwa as someone who survived on the crumbs that fell from the UDF dining table. Instead of nipping corruption in the bud it became entrenched and institutionalized. Today, some of those that scoffed at Chakufwa for chiding government about corruption continue as part of the governing elite – old habits die hard. Hence the principles of accountability and transparency which support democracy, leave alone the principle of separation of powers are not respected or adhered to by government.

Chakufwa was a motive force for peace and reconciliation. He was the unique star in and of Malawi; as in the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Only when it gets dark enough can one see the star”.  On April 6, 1992 Chakufwa emerged at the darkest hour in the history of our nation. He personified the international universal notion of humanity and solidarity. He proclaimed a new chapter in Malawi’s political evolution, which heralded true freedom and civil liberties. In that moment of unprecedented anxiety and tension at the airport in Lilongwe and throughout this nation, self-seeking and self-satisfied Cash getters who now wallow in the razzmatazz of government positions opted to let fear and the instinct for self preservation predominate in their hearts and minds. But the cogent and wise, in deciding what constituted valour demonstrated what it was to be a fighters and a patriots alongside Chakufwa Chihana.

We must commemorate that day and occasion, even declaring it a national holiday.  As of July 6, April 6 holds equal significance, if we are to be honest beneficiaries of the true freedom, courtesy of Chakufwa’s selfless contribution. Chakufwa was born of a people that are heroes and heroines. This is a legacy he refused ever to betray. This must become a bitter reminder of the leadership of the AFORD against betraying the legacy, principles, mission and vision of this mighty party as well as its founding fathers who have since been called to their rest.

And so the mighty tree of our forest fell. As it came down to rest, its crashing thud registered the fact. And that singular noise told the story that had to be told, about the hero that broke the backbone of tyranny, and whose legacy lives on. Wisdom demands that we must establish an occasion to honour our everlasting gift of heroes who were prepared to offer their lives as a sacrament for peace and dignity of the entire human race.

It is the contribution of a patriot who was never afraid of death, of a patriot who did not place a value of his own life above the true freedom of his people. In his honour Malawians must also resolve here and now to deny any opportunity to the corrupt, robbers and murderers, including the callous and heartless abductors of our very sons and daughters living with albinism; because that too is the peace that Chakufwa desired for Malawians.

Whatever happens, we shall for ever bear witness to the truth of liberation in Malawi. As a believer in the life up yonder, when the trumpet shall sound and the roll is called on the parade grounds, I know I will find his name among those who were available and ready to act in the interest of the people. Together with him we shall continue to serve the people of Malawi.

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masa masina
masa masina
7 years ago

Living in the past will not help us. We can not resurrect Chihana. He was a man of his time. That is why we should honour him as hero. But the present belong to us who have miserably failed to hold AFORD together. It is now in fragments because we did not learn enough lessons from Chihana. The vices that killed AFORD are the same vices that are responsible for the economic mess Malawi is in at the present moment. Our weakness as a people is that we like we do not take lessons from our own history.

7 years ago

Well articulated Mr Msowoya. We need to do more in future to revive Aford from its slumber, and to remember its hero Rt Hon Chakufwa Tom Chihana MP. God be with his family and the many friends and followers that he had and still has. They might have ‘wandered’ to other parties, but they will never forget the Aford Experience.

7 years ago

Dan has written so well about our beloved hero. We indeed need a monument for him – lest people forget who he was. We need a holiday too in his commemoration “Chakufwa Day”. If Chakufwa was alive, Malawi was going to survive – but Malawi now is on a death bed, courtesy of the Mutharikas who only know how to plunder but not to build.

7 years ago

Is Malawi economically better today under multiparty system of government.The answer is NO! To hell with political pluralism.

7 years ago

Kwadanji, i do believe you do not want us to read the Story on your behalf or you are just belittling what has been well written here about the National Hero, a Patriot as the writer has rightly put-The Late Chakufwa Chihana. He came to Malawi at a very difficult time when the Nation was in total darkness.People were put into Prison without explanation and we could accept this as the right thing.Our fellow brothers were just abducted and killed without any crime committed.That was the moment Chakufwa came to denounce the Stupid dictatorship of Kamuzu and bring to us… Read more »

7 years ago

What is is story about?

Mchewa - wo
Mchewa - wo
7 years ago
Reply to  Kwadanji

Koma anthu enawa you wonder whats their purpose….Ku phunzira si mkalasi monkha. Kukhala ndi chikhalidwe ndikuphunzira ndithu. Pali nyimbo tinkayimba ku primary kuti anthu wosaphunzira kwao nkunyada. anthu ngati Kwadanji fits the description perfectly.

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