Friday, 1 June 2012

The Elite 6, a glance into Malawi's history




It is a great honor to have your portrait embossed onto a local currency, but it takes great deeds to be recognized and be given such an honor. Before, there was only John Chilembwe, the great Malawian martyr who graced every Malawian bank note, but now there are five new faces. But who are these new faces on the new Malawi bank notes? Did they also play a crucial role and do they deserve to be given such an honor? After doing a little bit of research, I can let you be the judge of that. So I’ll go into some Malawian history, and re order these great figures in the order of their acts and how they are all intertwined. But I’ll start from John Chilembwe because that is where it all started from.

Reverend John Chilembwe (1860-1915)



The great Malawian martyr, he is the only man of mythic proportions in all of Malawian history. His face is unforgettable as it has been the face of all the Malawian bank notes for years. We may know that he was a martyr, but not that many people know the extent to which he played a role. So let me enlighten you. Born in 1860 in Blantyre, he attended the Church of Scotland mission from around 1890 and became a servant and helper of an egalitarian fundamentalist missionary, Joseph Booth. In 1897 Booth took him to the United States Lynchburg, Virginia, where he attended Virginia Theological College, a small African-American seminary. Here Chilembwe was exposed to the works of John Brown, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey and other abolitionists. Chilembwe received a degree from a black theological college. In 1900 he returned to Nyasaland as an ordained Baptist minister. Working with the American National Baptist Convention, he founded the Providence Industrial Mission, which developed into seven schools. In 1913, Workers were denied wages, and beaten. William Jervis Livingstone, a plantation owner, burned down rural churches and schools established by Chilembwe. On January 23, 1915 Chilembwe staged an uprising: he and 200 followers attacked local plantations that they considered to be oppressing African workers. Chilembwe’s plan involved the killing of all male Europeans. They killed three white plantation staff, including Livingstone, whom they beheaded in front of his wife and small daughter. Several African workers were also killed, but they did not harm any women or children on orders of Chilembwe. Then following Sunday Chilembwe preached with Livingstone’s head beside him on the pulpit. When the uprising failed to gain local support, Chilembwe tried to flee to Mozambique.  However, he was killed by officials on February 3, 1915. Although Chilembwe had sent letters to neighboring Zomba and Ntcheu encouraging them to organize uprisings at the same time his word did not arrive in time. His revolt is thought to have been rooted in his growing disgust with the wanton cruelty of white rule, especially on white estates that had African tenants and wage earners. A more immediate cause was British use of Nyasa soldiers against the Germans in east Africa at the outbreak of World War I. He was an early figure in the resistance toward colonialism in Nyasaland, now Malawi, and he sparked a building ant colonialism attitude. Today John Chilembwe is celebrated as a hero for independence, and John Chilembwe Day is observed annually on January 15 in Malawi.

James Frederick Sangala (1900-1974)



He was born around 1900 at Naisi, near the town of Zomba. Sangala was educated at Zomba Mission primary school and then at Blantyre Mission substation at Domasi. He qualified as a teacher in 1923 and taught primary school until 1927. But what major role did he play? In fact, he is a bridge between Patriot John Chilembwe and Ngwazi Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda. Let me elaborate. The North Nyasa Native Association was formed in 1912, typically composed of the educated elite: teachers, church leaders and civil servants. James Frederick Sangala in Blantyre and Levi Mumba in the rest of the country became leaders of the Native Association movement in Nyasaland during the 1930s. It sought to gain a voice in administrative, economic and other issues and they were encouraged by the colonial administrations. During the 1930s, the white colonists  of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (now  Zambia) were pushing for unification, and wanted to include Nyasaland  in the union, seeing Nyasaland as a useful source of labor that might  otherwise be drawn to South Africa. The people of Nyasaland resisted this move since they regarded the Rhodesias as "White Man" territory, and preferred the trusteeship arrangement in Nyasaland under which they had greater rights. As early as 1935, the Blantyre Native Association led by Sangala called a meeting of leaders in the area where they were invited to sign a petition opposing amalgamation. The Nyasaland Educated African Council emerged in 1943 from the leaders of the Native Associations, calling for a rapid movement towards self-government. The Council renamed itself the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) at the urging of Sangala, who felt the movement should not be restricted to the educated elite. Sangala encouraged the Congress to "Fight for Freedom", although he was careful to explain to the colonial powers that he did not mean armed conflict by that phrase. By 1950, James Chinyama was elected President, with Sangala Vice-President.  However, in 1953 the Colonial Office established the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in which Europeans would retain a position of leadership, abandoning the earlier principles of partnership between the races. The NAC leaders saw this as a betrayal. Uncoordinated protests followed, which were forcefully suppressed, with an official death toll of eleven Africans. Sangala was arrested in September 1953, but was released the next month when the magistrate dismissed the charges. In January 1954 Sangala was elected President of the Congress.  Although he continued to advocate civil disobedience. Sangala continued to press London to accept the principle of democratic elections to the Legislative Council. He asserted his right of freedom of movement and was arrested. He was charged with having advised Thamar Dillon Thomas Banda, the secretary-general of the Congress, to hand a seditious publication to the editor of the Nyasaland Times. Sangala was persuaded to resign from his position as Nyasaland African Congress President, and was replaced by Thamar Dillon Thomas Banda. The NAC was banned by the colonial authorities in 1959, and was succeeded by the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), led from prison by Dr. Hastings Banda. So Sangala paved way for the future leader of Malawi, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda.

Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda (1898-1997)



He is one of the most bold and iconic people whose name echoes through not only Malawian history, but also African history itself. I have talked about his humble beginnings under the Kachere tree in the Kamuzu Academy blog, so I’ll continue to what made this man famous. After leaving Malawi as a young man, he went to South Africa in his teens to work as a laborer.  From there he went to the U.S. to attend school, graduating high school from Wilberforce Academy in Ohio in 1925. He briefly attended Indiana University, followed by the University of Chicago. He studied medicine and became a doctor, working in Britain and Ghana before becoming active in politics and returning to Malawi. He answered the call for help from his motherland, Malawi was under colonial rule and he was coming back to rise against it. He became involved in politics when white settlers demanded the federation of Nyasaland (later Malawi) and the Rhodesias in 1949. In the 1950s he toured the country making antifederation speeches, for which he was imprisoned by British colonial officials. In 1963 the federation was dissolved. He played a crucial role in the break-up of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda was the first president of the Republic of Malawi. He concentrated on increasing agricultural productivity; he generally supported women’s rights, improved the country’s infrastructure, and maintained a good educational system relative to other African countries. Declared president for life in 1971, his rule became increasingly autocratic and austere. He was voted out of office in 1994. He died in South Africa in 1997. Some hailing him as a national and African hero, while others denounce him as a tyrant. But when you look at the big picture, his existence was most beneficial to all Malawians and his deeds cannot go unnoticed.

Rose Lomathinda Chibambo (1928-present)


She is a woman of great importance and her story is only coming to light now, especially to the later generations. Born in Kafukule, Mzimba District on September 8, 1928 when Nyasaland was still a protectorate under British colonial rule. In 1952 she became aware of Nyasaland African  Congress (NAC) politics during the controversy over the colonial  government's plan to make Nyasaland part of the Federation of  Rhodesia and Nyasaland and She decided that women should be more  involved in the struggle, and began to organize her friends in Zomba,  mostly the wives of civil servants. In 1953 she moved to Blantyre, joined the local NAC branch and was elected treasurer, the first woman to hold a senior position in the NAC. She joined forces with Vera Chirwa to form the Nyasaland African Women's League; Executives of the Women's League would select fabric from which they made matching outfits. The purpose was to show solidarity at public occasions, identifying members as a group. Rose Chibambo organized Malawian women in their political fight against the British as a political force to be reckoned with alongside their menfolk in the push for independence. In 1956, Rose Chibambo organized a group of women to protest when the NAC president James Frederick Sangala and secretary T.D.T. Banda were arrested for sedition. Her group was arrested and fined after they travelled by bus to the High Court in Zomba. But what did she wish to achieve? She said "I had this feeling  ... women should be part and parcel of the whole movement, even of running the country. Women should be involved in decision making.  That was my aim" She was imprisoned in 1959, while pregnant with her 5th child, along with other Malawians whom the Federal government felt were a threat to British rule. She gave birth while imprisoned and was not released till a year later. After Malawi gained independence, Rose Chibambo was the first woman minister in the new cabinet. On 7 September 1964 there was a cabinet crisis in which Chibambo and others opposed Hastings Banda. Banda declared that the rebel leaders were traitors to the state and threats to national security. Chibambo and the others were suspended from the party, which prevented them from attending party meetings and prevented members of the party from attending their meetings, giving Banda full control of the MCP. When she fell out with Dr. Hastings Banda she was forced into exile for thirty years, returning after the restoration of democracy. She is the most prominent female figure in Malawian history, with such bravery, influence and determination, and to achieve such great status and recognition, she is a figure worth noting.

Inkosi ya Makhosi M'mbelwa II (Lazalo Mkhuzo Jere) (1915-1959)



Born in 1915, from the Jere/Qeko lineage of the Ngoni tribe. He rose to the title of Paramount chief of the Jere in 1928. The origins of the Ngoni tribe are from South Africa, near Swaziland. His forefather, Inkosi ya Makhosi Zwangendaba led a migration lasting more than 20 years which ultimately led them to settle in Malawi. He also played a crucial role in the fight for independence, especially involving the local Malawians. He was the Leader of Malawi independence movement. He was the most powerful and fearless leader the Northern or Jere Ngoni have had since settling in northern Malawi. He too led his people to oppose the imposition of the Federation in the early 1950s.  In the late 1950s, he mobilized the people of Mzimba District to rally behind the Nyasaland African Congress, its leader Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, and the movement for national independence. He died in 1959 though not as big as the other freedom fighters or more educated Malawians, he was a key player as he was an influential king who could and did easily amassed support for the cause.

Inkosi Ya Makhosi Gomani II (Philip Zitonga Maseko) (1921-1954)


Born in 1921, from the Maseko/Gomani lineage of the Ngoni tribe. He received an education from Bevu School and ascended to paramount chieftaincy. He was a Malawi nationalist. He was the most development conscious paramount chief the Southern or Maseko Ngoni had during the colonial period. He, like his counterpart Inkosi ya Makhosi M'mbelwa II (Lazalo Mkhuzo Jere) mobilized his people to oppose the Federation of Nyasaland and Rhodesia, was deposed and  exiled for that reason, and died in 1954 whilst in exile as a martyr while defending  the dignity and freedom of his people. This, similarly to Inkosi ya Makhosi M'mbelwa II is a feat worth noting as he was a key player as he was an influential king.


These are the people from our past that shaped our present to ensure a better future where all Malawians are free from colonial rule and without their brave efforts our country would not be as we know it. These are the people we ought to remember, lest we forget.