The Soldiers of Democracy: A Tale of Malawi

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P.S. Before I continue, let me make it known that this is fictional around events that took place.

On 14 June 1993, we voted for a new system. We voted for a new lease of life, we voted for hope. Malawi had it’s referendum and 64% voted for a multi-party system. We earned our democracy. But all happy endings have a nasty beginning, this is no different.

Malawi got it’s independence on 6th of July 1964. After that, it transitioned to a one-party system with Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda as the president of the country. During his reign, he led the country using fear. He established the Malawi Young Pioneers which was a paramilitary for the Malawi Congress Party that was found in all levels of society and helped him achieve more political control.

During the time, party cards were also introduced which everyone, young and old, was supposed to always have. Kids were not allowed in classes without party cards. One could not get access to health care, transportation etc if they did not buy a party card.

God forbid when Kamuzu was travelling. We were required to stand in the sun from as early as 6am and chant songs praising the father of the nation. Sometimes, we would be in the sun for 8hrs, dancing our souls away afraid of the young pioneers.

This, we thought was our freedom. We went from being oppressed by the white man, to being put in chains by a black man who disliked his own mother tongue.

It was until 1989 when most people in the country seemed to have woken up from their slumber. An order had been made, teachers were to work in their regions of origin. This made a lot of teachers from the northern region lose their jobs due to the lack of employment opportunities. But, that also brought deficiencies of teachers in other regions.

A lot of people were arrested in pubs, buses etc if they dared say the wrong thing. University professors were arrested if they said bad about Band during their classes. Everyone was to be censored.

We lived in fear, unsure if you would make it to bed the next day or would you be kissing the prison walls instead.

This was until the 8th March, 1992. I remember the day vividly. I had woken up so early, showered and had gone in search of my best clothes. It was Sunday and it wasn’t long till the time would chime CHURCH O’CLOCK.

In my new floral dress and one inch white heels, I started the walk to church. On my way, I met my friend Lucy, and like every Sunday, she started her gist of the gossip I had missed. Gossip before church and repent after. However, what she said shocked me, there would be a letter read in church today.

My thoughts revolved around: A letter? I am going to church to be read a letter? Whose letter? What for?

Church started and after most of the mass activities were done, the priest announced that a pastoral letter was to be read. Penned by 7 bishops to all Malawians.

It was titled “Living Our Faith.” In it, criticism of the regimes woes. It criticized the system of the corruption, management of education and health services, abuse of human rights and the prevailed culture of silencing and fear. It was a bold move that had consequences, ones that would be felt instantaneous.

Within a week, all Roman Catholic churches were closed. 6 of the 7 bishops that wrote the pastoral letter were arrested. Bishop Monsignor John Roche, an Irish bishop, was expelled due to suspicions that he had penned the letter and was instigating unrest.

But the unrest started. Chancellor College students begun demonstrations, in solidarity with the church and also fighting for academic freedom. It was the first time that the army sided with the citizens by protecting them during the demonstrations that were taking place in Zomba.

In no time, students from the universities in Blantyre joined in. The demonstrations caught the eyes of a lot of citizens in the city. And an agreement was made. Destroy anything that could to send a message.

I remember being in Limbe when the first teargas was fired. I was at work and was not feeling too well. And just as I left the premises, a saw the people. Running in every direction, fearing for their lives. Shops were closing. Transportation was unavailable. You had to fend for yourself.

Using the shortcuts in Mudi, led us to Chichiri. From there, we passed through maize fields, making sure we were hidden from the police who had been scattered across Blantyre.

Smoke was everywhere. But our sole aim was to get to our houses in Chilobwe.

As we got to Nkolokosa, we saw the most respected flag in the city on fire. A flag put on the side of the Soche Mountain that read “Long Live Kamuzu” was burning. The lights that surrounded the flag had been damaged.

This was the people speaking.

As I got to my hometown, demonstrations had also started there. Running like a cheetah, I quickly got home and felt safe. I watched from the windows as people broke the Peoples store close to my house. Watched as they started looting. The looters would carry groceries and hide them on the hedges that fenced my house, and as a good person, I would go and take the groceries into my house. I was looting the looters.

It was a fearful two days of protests, and many lost their lives at the hands of the Young Pioneers and the police.

In April 1992, Chakufwa Chihana, leader of Alliance for Democracy, returned to Malawi from Tanzania. His purpose was to attend a democratic conference and form a democratic alliance. He was however arrested upon return and was charged with sedition.

With pressure increasing, in October 1992, Dr Banda made a decision that the country would have a referendum that would decide the future of politics.

This caused more unrest in the country. In December 1992, Chihana was sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labor. Before his sentencing, his party had been registered and so was the United Democratic Front led by Bakili Muluzi.

On the 10th of June 1993, Chakufwa Chihana was released from prison. This was due to both local and international pressure that surrounded his arrest.

On June 14, 1993, Malawians cast their vote. The results showed that 64% had voted for a multi-party system, 33% had voted for one-part system and 3% were blank votes.

On 16th May 1994, Malawi adopted a new constitution. On 17th May 1994, the first general elections were conducted. Bakili Muluzi emerged winner of the presidential seat with a majority vote of 44.44% while Hastings Kamuzu Banda got 33.65% and Chakufwa Chihana went third with 18.94%.

This marked the end of Kamuzu Banda’s life presidency. It marked the beginning of DEMOCRACY.

So many people were soldiers of democracy, from the clergy to students, workers etc. And 14 June is Freedom Day to celebrate their fight and efforts to the birth of a better Malawi.

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5 thoughts on “The Soldiers of Democracy: A Tale of Malawi

  1. I Stan a queen who knows her history 👏🏽👏🏽

    “This, we thought was our freedom. We went from being oppressed by the white man, to being put in chains by a black man who disliked his own mother tongue.” This should be printed and put on a billboard for everyone to see. The painful truth…

  2. Child this is good read but the narrative is like you were present at that time,you weren’t even a fetus yet

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