State vice-president Saulos Chilima has come under intense fire for describing founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda – an autocrat with a streak of brutality who ruled Malawi for 31 years of one-party dictatorship – as champion of democracy.
Chilima, whose party, UTM is in political alliance with Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and seven other tiny parties, described Kamuzu Banda as a “champion of democracy” for accepting to hold a referendum on June 14, 1993 on whether the country should adopt multiparty democracy or not.
He said this during the commemoration of Kamuzu Day events on Thursday at the former head of state’s mausoleum in Lilongwe.
However, the 1994 elections were held only after anti-government riots and an aid freeze by Western donors, who pressured Kamuzu to abandon repressive policies as post-Cold War reforms swept across Africa. Chilima, as a suniversity student activist, was among frontline troops who campaigned against Kamuzu and trumpeted democracy.
As a prelude to the elections, Kamuzu was forced to hold a nonbinding referendum in which Malawians voted overwhelmingly to end the country’s one-party system.
Some Malawians, taking up on various social media platforms, said Chilima said this just to please his alliance partners, the MCP which has many members of Kamuzu family in its executive committee.
Writing on his Facebook wall, Chancy Mlogeni said: “The democracy did not come on a silver platter. Kamuzu resisted change in all fronts. He killed or jailed or those who advocated for multiparty democracy. Chakufwa Chihana and Bakili Muluzi were unfortunate that they were jailed, others were killed just for advocating for multiparty democracy.”
Ngeyi Kanyongolo, a lecturer at Chancellor College also wrote that what she remembers about Kamuzu Banda are stories of a young student (now husband) who spent months in prison together with his friends for unspecified “revolutionary rebel” activities.
“Running all the way from Blantyre CBD to Chinyonga as people rioted in Blantyre over multiparty,” she says.
Adack Pafupi also posts that Kamuzu was a “champion of atrocities” and not champion of democracy.
But commentator and newspaper columnist Emily Mkamanga argues that Kamuzu left an “indelible mark” on infrastructure development and service delivery.
Using Kamuzu’s name for selfish political agenda will remain a political game in Malawi for generations to come.
Kamuzu led Malawi to independence in 1964 and went on to head one of Africa’s most brutal and isolated dictatorships for three decades. He was ousted in 1994 by Bakili Muluzi in the country’s first democratic elections.
During Banda’s rule, thousands of political opponents were killed, tortured, jailed without trial or hounded into exile. He was known for peculiar dictates that banned long hair on men, short skirts on women and even the Simon and Garfunkel song “Cecilia″ in deference to Kadzamira, who held the title of “official hostess.″
Mama Cecilia Kadzamaira met Kamuzu while working as a young nurse at a clinic Kamuzu owned before independence. Though constant companions, they never married and Kamuzu never admitted to having children though one Jumani Kamuzu Banda appeared some years ago to claim he was son to Kamuzu. Jumani mysteriously died recently.
Kamuzu, known as the Ngwazi, chief of chiefs or conqueror in the local Chewa language, was always seen in public in an austere dark suit, black Homburg hat and waving a lion’s tail fly whisk.
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