Kamuzu and Kanyama Chiume: Mungomo series on Ngwazi, part 3

Murray William KanyamaChiume was by no means a political midget. He was a true African nationalist leader who not onlyassisted in the liberation of Nyasaland form colonial oppression, but was a friend of many African leaders who shared the same freedom aspirations to his own. His relationship with Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, whose parents some believe came from Nkhata Bay before settling in Kasungu, making the two vitual “homeboys” was to say the least a father and son relationship.

Kanyama Chiume (left) and Kamuzu

Kanyama Chiume (left) and Kamuzu

Although political patronage reduced Chiume to an irrelevant broken man living in exile in Tanzania for thirty years, his legacy should never be forgotten by Malawians. The master of propaganda, he propelled Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda into prominence upon his return from Ghana to lead the Nyasaland African Congress. His associates claim that he composed the “ZonseZimene, ZaKamuzu Banda” song which rallied voters for the 1961 general elections.

After returning fromTanzania in 1994 where he continued to espouse democratic values for Malawi following his fallout with Dr. Banda in 1964, he formed a party which failed to garner any support in the country, nostalgically called Congress for the Second Republic. A hugely opinionated man, it would seem he could not bring himself to be led by ChakufwaChihana, who was a mere leader of the Youth League in Rumphi when he fled Malawi against all conventional wisdom. In his last days, hepublished a local newspaper From Nkhata Bay with Love,”which continued to speak out against tribalism, regional politics and corruption – denouncing a culture of leadership that depended on the “fatness of the financial carrot dangled before individuals.”

Chiume, believed to have been a key leader in the 1964 Malawi Cabinet Crisisof 1964, after having spoken out against Dr. Banda’s plan to retain whites within the administrative hierarchy of government and acceding to power sharing arrangements with the former colonial administration, is also believed to have convinced MasaukoChipembere, a formidable force in the Southern Region, to pull the rag under Dr. Banda’s feet.

Kanyama Chiume recognized for his mastery in propaganda is said to have written a scathing letter to Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda critical of his tacit support for settlers in Southern Africa; and his proposal to adopt Detention without Trial without consulting his cabinet. Others however believe that the fall out was as a result of simmering differences which arose between Dr. Banda and his lieutenants over their call to cut ties with Britain and forge new a relationship with Communist China. They have also, allegedly proposed the introduction of payment of three pence (3p) as medical contribution for all people attending government hospitals.

On his part, Kamuzu dug in his heels and provided leadership in denying the breaking of ties with Britain and refused to remove whites from the government. He subsequently negotiated a scholarship program with United Kingdom, in which UK undertook to provide training opportunities for Malawiansin readiness for the implementation of full indigenization of the civil service. Hundreds of Malawians were subsequently sent to universities and colleges in United Kingdom, India, Canada and USA to create a civil service which was modelled on the British public service and became an integral part of his 30 years governance.

Chiume, fired from cabinetand forced out of the (now renamed) Malawi Congress Party (MCP) went into exile in Tanzania from 1964 to 1994. It would take 30 years for Malawi to dislodge Dr. Banda from his mantle as flatterers created a circle around the now frail and ailing leader.

Kamuzu may be faulted for certain excesses. But he did not operate in a utopian setting. It would seem to me, that he had to balance what he, as a leader judged to be necessary to the security and economic wellbeingof the otherwise infant nation. Understandably, Kanyama Chiume, a close friend of Julius Nyerere who had just declared his intentions to align Tanganyika with Communist China is also believed have attempted to influence politics in Nyasaland as he did in Uganda.

And Britain, a formidable colonial power was not going to take kindly to any early switch of ideological allegiance so soon after liberation. Milton Obote, at the behest of Mwalimu Nyerere, some beleive flirting with Communist China, and the British gave their tacit approval to his removal from power only to be replaced by an idiot called Idi Amin.

Patrice Lumumba of Congo also paid a great price for his early ideological shift. Kamuzu knew this very well. After all, his friend Kwame Nkrumah was guiding him along. After all, a great power, as they say, has no friends, merely interests, and interests change. Kamuzu was aware that the idea of international politics is merely a sentimental overlay concealing calculations of national interest. He would not play a weak hand to strengthen Nyerere’s hand whose interests Chiume seemed to unwittingly have been adopting.

Kanyama Chiume an activist of considerable experience, it would seem, had missed the essential recognition that the politician is ideally constrained by his representative function which is circumscribed by the responsibilities of his office. He seemed to have fundamentally failed to appreciate the brutalities of power which are largely converted into sauvities of authority and that he needed to distinguish between these two phenomena. While the masses, perplexed by the obvious theater unfolding before them, not understanding how the man who had not so long ago composed songs in praise of Kamuzu, would suddenly change and challenge him for making unilateral decisions. Mesmerized by the courage and open criticism which Dr Kamuzu Banda heaped on whites in vitriolic public speeches, calling the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland…”their stupid federation”, the power of those who now held important positions, albeit exaggerated, were saviors. And Kamuzu was the Ngwazi, Mpulumutsi, “ZonseZimenezaKamuzu Banda”.

The departure from the stage of the likes of Orton Chirwa, Kanyama Chiume, Harry Bwanausi, MasaukoChipembere, Rose Chibambo, YatutaChisiza, DunduzuChisiza, Willy Chokani and many more, only opened a door for others such as John Tembo, GwandaChakuamba,Mrs Margaret Mlanga, Robson Chirwaand others.

Politics is sometimes compared to a theatre. In which case politicians and actors certainly are relatives of the same tribe. The task of the actor is to play whatever role, however painful it may be as he leads his audience to the climax of the show in which he either emerges as the hero or villain. Similarly, in politics the leader is guided by ideals, distant beacons of excellence at which he attempts to focus the attention of his followers. But the supreme navigational tool, is to my mind, justice, which is the masterpiece of political philosophy.

Yes, that regulative virtue which determines the place of all virtues. It wouldn’t be correct to accuse Judges of the Courts for sending people to the gallows because some people do not believe in death sentence. They are simply instruments of a “justice” system that society adopts. I would like to suggest that KanyamaChiume and Kamuzu Banda were two faces of one coin. They were simply separated by ideology. Actors on the same political stage, where one was to emerge hero and the other villain!

In celebrating the relationship of these two opposite sides of the one coin, I invite you to peep into Kanyama’s eloquent piece of writing to “his father”, Kamuzu.



2nd August, 1962

Dear Father,

I would like to assure you that in spite of the many false accusations which were showered on me yesterday including the threat of my being beaten up by my friend Chisiza, I bear no ill feeling against my friends and will do all I can to maintain unity to assist you in the difficult tasks that lie ahead. It is not the first time that accusations of this nature have been falsely made on me nevertheless, when I entered politics, I was aware that the task of liberating a nation and maintaining it intact, is not an easy one; and I have travelled enough to realize that our worst problems have not yet started.

In these difficult times, we need a leader of your stature, standing and strength. I feel now more than ever that we were wise with my friend Chipembere to have asked and begged you to come and lead us. May I say with all humility and sincerity; I shall do all I can even if it meant extreme persecution to make sure that your wise leadership is maintained and upheld. For that I am determined not to shift an inch even it meant death. A man, father, dies but once and for me to die for a cause and a leader I hundred percent identify with the struggle and preservation of this nation, will be a noble cause.

I went to find out what were the “dangerous” rumours Mr. Chsiza said were circulating in Zomba. I am told it is to the effect that I am the one blocking the release of Chipembere. I have never heard of such a fantastic rumour in my life, but I am glad it is taken as a big joke in Zomba for Zomba people with whom I have been for three and half years as a former member of Legislative Council know how dear Chip is to me and how dear I am to him. It is not a rumour you should worry about – indeed it is a big joke though I think I need not go into details as to its source. I attach a letter from Augustine Bwanausi to me when I was in London. How this friendliness could have suddenly turned into hate I leave it to you Sir to deduce.

Again, I assure you that as far as I am concerned, yesterday’s ugly performance against me is now ancient history and as always, I pledge to work together with all your boys for good of Malawi.

May our Heavenly Father shower your blessings on you so that you lead us and teach us the tasks of holding intact a nation when we are surrounded around Nyasaland by political vultures.

Your son,


  1. I will be back from Port Herald on 7th.
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Optic Computer

We know we are a sinking Titanic at a cost! Tribalism is Malawian. I believe when tribalism dies we shall cease to be malanian.

John Kachasu

We alos would like to know about SILOMBELA. Who was he and how did he die. What happened.

Keen Observer

1988 Kamuzu was not too old


He was too old. He was already in his 80s or 90s depending on what date you use as his birth. In the early 60s chipembere and kanyama were already calling him father. He returned to malawi already elderly.


i hate all the people from south, friends or no friends. let it be what ever you want but one day you are going to c what u want.

Mwana wa kwa Msulira

Please note that today, the noisiest people about tribalism claims of the current government and Bingu’s were mbwenu-mbwenus…they alsways want to have their cake and eat it. When they are in charge of any organisation, check the people they employ, or a tleast favour to employ…they must first come from the north. Wake up you Central region and Southern region politicians…these people are selfish to the core. Ministry of Works and Supplies as it was called the, together with Design Department was just full of them from. There was Mwalwenje, Nyasulu, Lungu, Gondwe, Mwamlima, Mwakasungula…do you want more?

Mwana wa kwa Msulira
o Machemba, Let me tell you the about the real reason for the reintroduction of the quota system. It started again when Donton Mkandawire was at Maneb. He was leaking Standard 8 examinations to schools in the north just as he was leaking the MSCE examinations to schools like Phwezi. This would give the impression to the unsuspecting person that the north had bright children. That is why most secondary schools in the south including Nsanje Day Secondary School, has children from Rumphi who could hardly speak a word of Chichewa. In the same way, Chancellor college was full of… Read more »
Nyani wa ku Mwananyani
Nyani wa ku Mwananyani

Mwana wa kwa Msulira:
Your observations are welcome, indeed.
But your piece is misdirected at o’Machemba. Nowhere did he write about the RE-INTRODUCTION of the quota! He only alluded to the introduction, ie. the apparent (first) introduction by Kamuzu, in 1964; and the rationale for that decision. Seems like o’Machemba was around that time, and writes from first hand knowledge.
Re-read his comments and please be more careful, next time.


Dr HKB and Kanyama did their part as far as Malawi politics is concerned.
This time around lets see the way forward to develop our nation.
We might have learnt a lesson from what these politicians did to our nation,some being good and some bad.This is how life is all about.Thus why a coin has got two faces.
You can not be good to all.


Totally agree with you Matutu, your observation is 100% correct. While chip originally was 100% obedient to kamuzu, kanyama was not. Kanyama could express his own views and disagree with kamuzu while remaining obedient.

Kanyama’s attitude is a reflection of Northern Region Politics: heap praises on a leader to his face and stab him to death behind his back. To me those “rebel” ministers are not heroes at all. What did they achieve with their rebelion? They were ignorant too. By refusing hospital fees on the pretext that people were too poor, where did they think money for buying medicine would come from? What was the tax base for Malawi in 1962? Dr Banda was clever, after expelling them he introduced the head tax in order to achieve what the confused rebels refused and… Read more »
The other side of Kanyama has been left unexposed. He was a true son of the Mwenumbwenus. Being the first Minister of Education in the new nation, he introduced the silent practice: “hold my hand and hold the one belonging to your fellow mbwenumbwenu and so goes the chain”. With this, Kanyama offered 95% of all the mentioned scholarships to his fellow mbwenumbwenus. There was no merit as a criteria at that time. If you had GCE “O” Level, and you belonged to this clan, you were given a scholarship which saw you first starting with “A”Levels to Degree level… Read more »

Sapitwa, keep on speculating lies. So kamuzu waited for more than 20 years in 1988 long after the Rebels have fled to introduce quota system?

Kamuzu was never an advocate of quota system but was pushed to do so in the later years when he was becoming too old and you should know who had more influence!!! But as they say the buck stops with the leader.

Khuth'upa o'Machemba
KenKKK: Sapitwa is correct about the quota. It is well known that Kamuzu annulled the 1964 secondary school selection, because he figured it was doctored by Chiume, who was then minister of education. Kamuzu was furious with Chiume over this. And that is when Kamuzu decided approximately equal numbers of students should be selected to national secondary schools, like the prestigious BSS. Kamuzu actually ordered a second selection: Quota with merit. (Yes, there is such a scenario). And Sapitwa mentions the underground planning, and underhanded dealings by northerners, led by Chiume. This is likely true. I wonder if Sapitwa was… Read more »

I beg to differ.

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