After the collapse of the MCP dictatorship in 1993, it seems Malawians embraced democracy with as much freedom of scholarly and intellectual analysis of our national history and its figures, as they did with all other aspects of freedom and human rights.
The MCP dictatorship was not only an era of political darkness, but also an era of indoctrination where everyone was either conditioned or compelled in one way or another to accept history as it was provided with little or no questions at all, especially on politically sensitive history.
This can be evidenced by the fact that the history of Dr Kamuzu Banda himself was not clear and only few questions were asked and only through cautious whispers. And it seems the history of John Chilembwe and the significance of his life and the 1915 insurgency was not told as it should have been.
And Malawians did not have the freedom to look at this history, and analyze it especially with respect to, who Chilembwe really was given the facts surrounding his involvement in the colonial politics of his time.
With the rise of press freedom since 1994, which promotes the freedom to share or publish even deviant opinions on all matters of national interest, I have read and heard a lot from people who have said a lot about who Chilembwe really was, which many did not share back then.
For instance, some have called Chilembwe a mere rebel while others have called him a murderer, and similar labels which have robed him of his usual and generally accepted heroic and patriotic accolades.
But what I find interesting the most until today, is what President of the United Independence Party, Hellen Singh who was also presidential candidate in the 2014 Elections told me in late November 2013. I had a chance of chatting with this brilliant lady at her office in Blantyre. During our chat, which lasted more than an hour, the longest I have ever had with a politician, we diverted to Chilembwe, after she had argued that Malawians celebrate the wrong heroes.
Singh eloquently and intelligently – she is an intelligent and eloquent lady- narrated the story of Chilembwe to me, just brief enough to drive her point home, and said, “John Chilebwe was a Trade Unionist.” I had never thought about Chilembwe as a Trade Unionist, and I did not see that coming.
Upon noticing that I needed a little more convincing on the matter, she said, “ JohnChilembwe was not a freedom fighter, he was a Trade Unionist because he was only fighting against poor wages of Nyasaland Africans working on the plantations of the White colonialists.” I knew she was talking about the infamous “Thangata.” “You don’t call such a person a freedom fighter.” She summarized while I inquisitively nodded my head.