Malawi’s martyrs’ day: Contemporary martyrs

The martyr’s day is probably one of the most significant public holidays in our country. On this particular day, we commemorate lives whose blood rendered a sacrificial ransom for liberty and independence. Diverse historical literature attribute the martyrs day in Malawi to the 40 people who were massacred in 1959 during the uprising against the British colonialism, especially the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland which was the political amalgamation of three regions, which included; the present Zimbabwe, Zambia and our own Malawi.

Formed on 1 August 1953 the Federation had fallen out of favor of our nationalistic ancestors, who like Dr Luther King Jnr, they had a dream; a dream of a liberated and independent Nyasaland. Led by Dr Kamuzu Banda, a patriotic and audacious leader, who called it the “Stupid Federation,” they denounced it.

John Chilembwe; martyr

Many joined the cause with unyielding and steadfast revolutionary zeal even in the face of death. In Nkhatabay, about 30 unarmed natives suffered a consequent atrocious massacre with rifles by the British colonial army for forwarding a humble appeal to engage dialogue on liberation.

Nonetheless, I dread to confine my commemoration of martyrs within the context of those that died during the anti-colonialism revolutions, lest I deprive myself of an exhaustive characterization of a martyr and develop a subconscious prejudiced definition which centers on death as the sole prerequisite for the acclamation of a martyr.

I espouse the comprehensive conceptualization of martyrs which defines a martyr as “one who suffers death or endures great suffering on behalf of any belief, principle, or cause: most commonly, a religious belief or causes of social justice.” (

This definition compels us to extend our acclamation of martyrs beyond the deceased. It challenges us to focus more on the belief or cause and willingness to face persecution for the same even if the suffering might not lead to ultimate death of the martyr. If we center on death, we remove in the picture, equally patriotic martyrs that went through prison and suffered for the very causes of liberation, democracy and social injustice, but survived.

To ignore their martyrdom because they did not die is to ridicule both their survival and nationalism. Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the greatest statesmen of all time said, “ it is the cause, not the death that makes the martyr”

We have intrinsic predisposition, probably because of our tradition and culture, to revere the dead more than the living, so much that in death even a thief is indisputably declared a good man.

However, if we cast our gaze beyond the dead martyrs, we will embrace contemporary martyrs of democracy who in their innermost humility have not summoned related acknowledgment; men and women who walk along our streets undistinguished, yet harbor contentment in their hearts that they lived to live their realized dream of democracy in Malawi.

I wish I were able to mention a few names of individuals who endured persecution behind prison bars for the cause of democracy, yet our nation robs them of heroic credit of martyrs.

Martyrs are born out of political struggles; resultantly, their acclamation has evolved to be a matter of political stunt not civil honor; politicians, with villainous intentions deliberately disregard certain equally praiseworthy martyrs, especially the contemporary martyrs.

But, I feel every citizen has a civil obligation to venerate in the highest regard possible, without prejudice, even contemporary martyrs that suffered for the cause of democracy and Multiparty. I refute the apparent public disregard of such martyrs that fathered democracy after being apprehended and detained in prison for several years without charge or trial; patriotic men that were denied the comforts home and banished to live as fugitives in exile for their yearn for democracy; martyrs that saw the possibility of a democratic Malawi and announced their blood would fuel the engines of democracy in Malawi should they die in the very quest; Men that awakened the international response to a prolific political insurgency that dethroned autocracy in Malawi.

The noblest way to commemorate martyrs’ day is to reflect on their patriotism and enhance the perpetuation of their cause. Indira Gandhi, the Indian prime minister said, “Martyrdom does not end something, it is only a beginning.”  The martyrs established the cause, and enthused the faith in us.

We are obliged to safeguard the belief and cause for which they suffered and died, and pass it on the next generation. Our children will summon the knowledge of our courses of action when democracy was on the verge of demise.  Will they affirm that we were patriotic enough to change the course of history in their favor or we, with so much cowardice simply threw insults at each other during dark times of political disintegration and economic deterioration that demanded our martyrdom? What precedence are we establishing for the Malawi of tomorrow? This is the question I wish every citizen would ask themselves and answer it with the deepest sincerity.

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