Why Kamuzu Banda chose 3rd March as Martyrs’ Day in Malawi

Every year, on 3rd March, Malawians observe Martyrs Day. Whereas the day invokes sorrowful memories, it is the day we show respect for the magnanimous men and women who braved bullets, suffered imprisonment and all forms of humiliation during the fight for the freedoms and rights we enjoy today. It is the day we remember and honour our freedom fighters and the values and ideologies they envisaged to make Malawi a better country for all.

Malawi commemorates March 3 as Martyrs Day

Apart from 3rd March there are other two days on which we also remember our martyrs; 15th January, Chilembwe Day, we celebrate the life of Reverend John Chilembwe of the Providence Industrial Mission in Chiradzulu who led a dramatic and fierce rebellion against colonialism in 1915 and on 14th May, Kamuzu Day, we remember our first Republican president, Kamuzu Banda.

While Martyrs Day and Kamuzu Day have been there since independence, it was after 1994 when the then president, Bakili Muluzi declared 15th January as Chilembwe Day holiday. In 1944, during the formative period of the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC), George Mwase from Nkhata Bay and other members of the executive committee then, pressed the colonial Nyasaland Government to set 15th January as Chilembwe Day. To no avail.

Malawians experienced many periodic political upheavals during the colonial era, but why did Kamuzu Banda see it befitting to declare 3rd March as a Martyrs’ Day holiday? Kamuzu Banda explained this in his 1974 Martyrs Day message to the nation. It was broadcast on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) on 2nd March, and published in the Daily Times newspaper of March 4, as follows;

“…… I have stated that tomorrow, Sunday, March 3rd is Martyr’s Day, and that Martyrs’ Day is the day on which we, the people of this country, remember and honour those of our people who sacrificed their lives in order that this country, may be free and independent, and that these men and women were shot dead in cold blood on March 3rd, 1959, in August and September 1953, and between January and May, 1915.

If these men and women were killed in more days than one, why pick March the 3rd? You may ask. March the 3rd was chosen as a day on which to remember and honour those of our people, who sacrificed their lives in order that we may be free, because what happened on that day, 3rd March, 1959, resulted in independence. The independence that the country got in 1964 was a direct result of what happened on March the 3rd, 1959. 

What took place in 1915 (Chilembwe Uprising) did not result in freedom and independence. What took place in 1953 did not result in freedom and independence. After the incidents in 1915, the colonial rule became still more entrenched in this country. After the incidents of Thyolo and Domasi in August and September1953, where our people were shot dead in cold blood, the Federation was imposed. And from that time, August and September 1953, to August 1957, when the Nyasaland African Congress held a conference in Blantyre, the Federation was imposed or had been imposed, and foreign rule seemed to be here to stay. But after the incidents on March the 3rd, 1959, nobody, not even the colonial rulers themselves, felt that what had taken place on that day would end there and then”

Kamuzu Banda’s assertions are shared by most historians who have noted that while before March the 3rd, 1959, the British government thought that the Federation was there to stay. However, after that day’s commotions and killings they recognized that the Federation’s survival was doubtful and decided to abandon it altogether. Observers believe that the disturbances on 3rd March, 1959, accelerated our independence which had previously appeared a decade away, and probably a far cry.

While before 3rd March, the colonial government considered Kamuzu Banda as a leader of a few ambitious and possibly misguided political elites, the situation during the state of emergency on 3rd March, 1959 strengthened his position as undisputed leader of not only the Nyasaland African Congress but of all oppressed Africans across the country.

Because of the actions on 3rd March 1959, a historic policy shift by the colonial government was made in central Africa. It is therefore important for us as Malawians to understand and appreciate the choice of 3rd March out of all other days as a day we honour and celebrate all our martyrs.

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V Lwanja
V Lwanja
1 month ago

The major reason for choosing 3rd March was Dr Banda’s indignation and bitterness of his arrest and the suffering that he went through.
About timing of our independence, it came too soon before our society attained a critical mass of enlightenment. And so the opponents to independence have been proven right, actually they said Dr Banda would sacrifice the development of the country at the alter of his ambition.
About African rule, we have dismally failed due to a whole host of reasons- this is spared for a later engagement.

Wakwiya ndi kadeti
1 month ago

We have failed to rule ourselves. We rushed to get independence and multiparty made things worse because it brought useless people into power. They destroyed the country beyond recognition. That is dpp and udf. Pure thieves. Pure thugs. They destroyed all that Kamuzu built. We have no roads. We have unplanned urban settlements with no roads, electricity and water. Where are the estates in Kasungu and Mchinji? We had Chamwavi in Kasungu? We had Chimwamkango in Kasungu just to mention a few. PTC shops were in every district but now most of the shops have closed. Who is to blame?… Read more »

Che Jika
Che Jika
1 month ago

The article has not addressed the question why Kamuzu Banda chose 3rd Mrach as Martyrs Day?That aside Malawians are not free having lost vast chunk of fertile lands to the oppressors who today are disguised as investors.They keep on milking Malawi of it’s natural resources and yet they have the audacity of calling it One of the poorest country in the World.If Malawi is poor why are you even building a new embassy. Fellow Malawians wake up.The so called donors are not real donors they are pilferers.

CESSPOOL
CESSPOOL
1 month ago

To honour Vincent Wandale in DPP era was to arrest him then realised that the too handfuls for the government the best was to declare him a mentally unsound case over his drive against landlessness of the natives in the Lhomwe belt. UTM campaign music was cheering for the people but heee the UTM disc is dismally overscratched nothing from the UTM studios. None will state unequivocally that the UTM is still collecting information to refine the Wandale lamentations this is the betrayal of our quest for our own land security. Tonse Alliance has found comfort in silence as citizens… Read more »

Moya
Moya
1 month ago

Nice article however you could have included the breakdown of events that happened on 3rd March 1959 so that the readers should appreciate why the date was chosen or brought about the independence. You have assumed all readers know what happened on 3rd March 1959 for the innocent people to get killed.

Chisale
Chisale
1 month ago

I strongly believe we could have left them until the late 80’s before chasing them away so they could develop the cities and infrastructure. Look at our city planning, the roads. We haven’t done much.
A good example is Harare (before the mess), they left in the 80’s, city planning was perfect and the infrastructure looked good. Yes it is messed up now but they did their part.
Mind you in Malawi, some govt buildings are the same they used before we got independence.

Katundu Muzito
Katundu Muzito
1 month ago
Reply to  Chisale

To the contrary Malawi then Nyasaland couldn’t have been developed to the ranks of Zimbabwe nor S.A simply because the colonialists had other motives for Nyasaland other than infrastructure.

Ulemu Banda
Ulemu Banda
1 month ago
Reply to  Chisale

This is a colonial mindset. We don’t need colonial masters to develop us. We simply haven’t progressed because of a few greedy individuals who have plundered resources for the country. We need to change this ourselves.

Kuduhunter
Kuduhunter
1 month ago
Reply to  Chisale

How can you even think like that do you think we could only have all that only if the white man was in charge ? No no no we can and could have done better but our biggest problem is corruption , plundering of resources etc in fact its not only a Malawi problem whole of Africa is being robbed of its riches by the west and our own people who are making the money in Africa and stashing in Foreign Banks

Last edited 1 month ago by Kuduhunter
Ndafera Nkhande
Ndafera Nkhande
1 month ago

I agree with Mwinimudzi Tonse kindly solve this land issue in Thyolo and Mulanje. Otherwise we are not yet fully a fully free nation with amwenye and whites controlling our economy.

Mangochi Kabwafu
Mangochi Kabwafu
1 month ago

Indeed, let the nation remember all these events but without declaring public holidays. We have too many holidays in Malawi, albeit many useless, including but not limited to mothers day, asilamu etc. Don’t get me wrong, I do RESPECT all events represented, but let us celebrate without declaring public holidays on each one of them.
Ulesi + too many holidays = poverty, then begging.

Justice for all
Justice for all
1 month ago

We can celebrate their life but phuma was too much this people could left the white to until now Malawi could have been Singapore by now but this idiots of today are busy abusing public funds

Mwini muzi
Mwini muzi
1 month ago

One of the main reasons the previous uprisings occurred before the 3rd March one was forced and irksome labour (thangata) in the crop fields belonging to colonial masters. To add salt to the wound, these fields were even stolen from Africans in Thyolo, Mulanje and Chiradzulu and were never given back to the indignant people after independence. What independence without reclaiming the land that still continues to be in the same hands of the colonial masters in the same districts. Freedom without land is a joke; aluta continua!

Last edited 1 month ago by Mwini muzi
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