Malawians are today, Friday June 14, commemorating Freedom Day quietly with business as usual amid calls that government should declare the day a public holiday to give it the respect it deserves.
June 14 1993 is a day Malawians took to a decisive referendum to publicly reject their long time silent hatred of 31 years of Kamuzu Banda’s dictatorship.
This day, 26 years ago, Malawians queued on lines to vote in a referendum on whether to maintain the one party rule or revert to multiparty democracy and it was a day and year that marked the complete deletion of dictatorship—a historical moment that, with just a vote, summed the collective and shared spirit of how a nation, a people, chose the direction and tone of how they should be governed.
Malawi’s first democratic president Bakili Muluzi June 14 a public holiday.
That decision was quite befitting not just to the ideals of human freedom it represents, but also the honour it carries to men and women who took part in ending Kamuzu Banda’s 31-year-rule of death and darkness.
Unfortunately, after he left office, the government just moved and scrapped off June 14 as a public holiday.
Reinstate Freedom Day
Malawians have taken up on social media platforms to call on the government to declare the day a holiday.
“Let the government scrap off Kamuzu Day and replace it with the Freedom Day,” suggested one Malawian in a post on Facebook.
Another facebooker suggested that the government should take off Chilembwe Day on the calendar as a holiday, saying it is now irrelevant and should replace it with Freedom Day.
Freedom Day and Democracy cannot be mentioned in Malawi without mentioning late Chakufwa Chihana, dubbed the father of democracy who flew in the country on April 6 1992 to challenge Kamuzu Banda’s autocratic rule.
He was arrested but Malawians with the help of western countries including the US, pushed for the multiparty democracy.
Muluzi recalls fight for democracy
Muluzi, who governed from 1994 to 2004, recounts the high price for democracy.
“I remember that immediately after 63 percent of Malawians voted in favour of multiparty during the 1993 referendum, over 500 000 people who had fled the country, including Kanyama Chiume, returned to Malawi. Others who had been detained without trial were released,” he explained in quotes reported by local press.
The former Malawi leader recalled how the underground movement started around 1983 after the death of three Cabinet ministers Aaron Gadama, Dick Matenje, Twaibu Sangala and a parliamentarian David Chiwanga.
“They died two years after I left Cabinet. Patrick Mbewe, the late Dumbo Lemani, Brown Mpinganjira and myself met and asked ourselves; ‘should we really allow this to continue?’
“Our group later grew to 17 people. We were approaching one person at a time.
“We later started producing pamphlets denouncing the system and calling for change which we would distribute across the country,” he explained.
The former president said the late Chakufwa Chihana, who later became leader of Alliance for Democracy (Aford), had also started his agenda for change and challenging the president under the one-party dictatorship, Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
He recalled: “On two occasions police came to my residence in Naperi, which now houses Joy Radio, and told me they had information that I was rising against Banda.
“I denied the accusations. I was wearing a Kamuzu badge and I told them, how can I do that? They left and I immediately went around and alerted my friends.
“Kamuzu later announced during a public rally in Balaka that if anyone sees me they should arrest me. That time we were at Harry Thomson’s office at Ginnery Corner, holding one of our meetings.
“Lemani tipped us off and we verified it to be true. There was British High Commissioner’s residence in Blantyre, apart from the one in Lilongwe, and we agreed I should seek refuge there. That was the only safest place.”
He said police went to his house, searched everywhere, and went to his Kapoloma home village in Machinga without success. Muluzi said they took his son, young Atupele then and his mother to police station where they pressed them to disclose where he was, but they told police they had no idea and were let go.
“I spent three days at the British High Commissioner’s residence, the commissioner was not there. My friends late Collins Chizumira and Wenham Nakanga were lawyers, and they knew where I was hiding. So they came and asked: ‘Why don’t you surrender to police?’ and I accepted,” he said.
Muluzi said Nakanga drove him to Southern Region Police Headquarters and without charge, he was locked at Chichiri Prison where he spent five nights.
Living our faith
Muluzi said the 1992 pastoral letter issued by Catholic bishops titled ‘Living Our Faith’, hit the nail on the head as it was considered a remarkable support to what they had been demanding.
He said the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) was born around that time, acting as a link between those calling for change and government.
“We were very happy that Malawians finally voted for referendum. We knew that would be the beginning of human dignity,” he said.
But Muluzi does not credit himself and his cronies for the change in Malawi politics.
He said: “It was all God’s grace. Sometimes I ask myself, how did it happen? It was almost impossible. Many people were killed and arrested. We had the support of people. People were yearning for change.”Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :