During his inaugural appearance before Parliament to answer queries from legislators, President Lazarus Chakwera righted an important historical wrong about the genesis of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) – the country’s oldest party.
Responding to Leader of Opposition Kondwani Nankhuma who had insinuated that Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda was the founding president of MCP, Chakwera took the opportunity to correct that historical wrong by reminding the nation that it was Orton Edgar Ching’oli Chirwa from Nkhtabay how founded MCP in 1959 and not Kamuzu as it was widely beleived.
If you don’t know, there is something fundamentally imperative in the clarification Chakwera made with regards to MCP’s genesis.
You see, for 31 years, Kamuzu’s dictatorship machinery worked tirelessly to erase every name from the country’s history—an attempt to narrow the narrative of the country’s struggle to one man.
That is why, for 31 years, Kamuzu’s name bestride every sector of this country and, as a vindication, we have the relics working strong in the psyche of some of our modern leaders such as Nankhumwa.
We must be worried when we still have leaders, such as Nankhumwa, who are careless with facts that explain the true struggles of this nation.
This is why Chakwera’s clarification should be highly appreciated because it represents the dawn of emancipating the country’s history from the shackles of Kamuzu narrative.
Orton Chirwa is a defining figure in the history of Malawi’s emancipation from colonialism.
A lawyer by profession, born 30 January 1919, called to the Bar London 1958, Malawi Minister of Justice and Attorney General 1964, advocate and law lecturer Tanzania 1964-81—Orton Chirwa, who died in Zomba prison on 20 October 1992, was Malawi’s first black barrister.
A founder of the Nyasaland African Congress, he was one of a group of young nationalist leaders who, in 1958, took the fateful decision to invite Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, then living in Ghana, to return to Malawi. Chirwa and his colleagues felt that the experience and gravitas of an old man—Banda was already about 60—would impress their African constituency.
In 1959, after Federal Government declared State of Emergency, Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) was banned and arrested many of its leaders, including Kamuzu Banda.
As the senior leader at liberty, Orton Chirwa formed the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and became its first president. The following year, after Banda’s release, he stood down and handed him the leadership.
At independence in 1964, Orton Chirwa became Attorney General, but fell out with Banda over the slow pace of African advancement in the civil service. Banda sacked Chirwa and three other ministers, driving them into exile.
Chirwa settled in Tanzania, where he taught and practiced law. His new political party, the Malawi Freedom Movement, appears to have had little active support inside Malawi which was now a one-party state with Banda as president for life.
Details as to how he was captured in Zambia in 1981, together with his wife Vera, remains sketchy; but they were arrested, tried by a tradition court for treason, found guilty and sentenced to death.
In 1984, after many appeals from governments and colleagues from their student days in London, Banda commuted their sentences to life imprisonment.
Life imprisonment proved to be a further sentence of death. The Chirwas were denied contact with each other and the outside world.
IT WAS a small mercy that Orton Chirwa was allowed a final meeting with his wife Vera just a month before his death. The two were held in solitary confinement in separate wings of Zomba prison. They had been imprisoned for nearly 11 years; perhaps, Africa’s longest serving prisoners of conscience.
In his death, the once vibrant Orton was virtually deaf and blind with untreated cataracts.
Definitely, in writing Malawi’s post-colonial history, Orton Chirwa’s role needs to be judged with fairness and respect deserving the central role he played in the fight against colonialism.
He remains a potent symbol of the struggle for human dignity and freedom of conscience.
That is why, against Nankhumwa’s misinformation, it is compelling that we have an honest MCP leader whose masterly of historical facts and interpretation is superb.
Now Chakwera need to do more: He must honour Orton Chirwa by, among others, refurbishing his burial place at Kanduli in Nkhata Bay.
Even some MCP cloth can bear the face of Orton Chirwa the father and founder of the party.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :