By Dyson Mthawanji:
It is easy for people who were grownups during Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s regime (1964-1994) to understand why the country remembers him today.
But many who were born after Banda’s reign in 1994 or his death in 1997 can question the relevance of this day, which is a public holiday. However, mentioning of some of Kamuzu’s achievements, one realises the importance of the day.
Imagine travelling from Blantyre to Mzuzu on an earth road. The journey can be boring and tiresome. But that was the way things were before Banda took over power from the colonial rulers.
Banda invested time in national development. He was more like a father of the nation than a political leader. Evidence is there for all to see.
Banda’s love for his native country started during his 43 years of stay in London and even when he departed for Ghana in 1953. In both places, he worked as a medical doctor (his career).
During this time, Banda was the most radical member of Nyasaland African Congress (now Malawi Congress Party). He was sending money to the group, having been profoundly influenced by the intensification of racism in social-political institutions of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia after the Second World War.
Thus, the first reason to remember Banda is his stance against the Central African Federation. For example, in the 1949 memorandum against the proposed Central African Federation, he wrote of the servitude “from which only a major war or a major revolution can ever free our brothers and sisters across the Limpopo”.
The Central African Federation was hazardous to Malawians. Malawi had more labour but lacked natural resources such as mines on which people could work like these neighbouring countries.
Neighbouring Southern Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe, respectively) had mines but inadequate manpower.
For this reason, the whites fused the three with a hidden agenda of migrating people from Malawi to the other two countries where they provided labour in mines. The result of this arrangement saw the Southern Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia developing economically using labour from Nyasaland (now Malawi). There was little economic benefit for Malawi.
Therefore, today Malawians remember Banda for his courage to oppose and fight against the federation.
When young intellectuals such as Henry Chipembere and Kanyama Chiume invited him to come back to Malawi, Banda did not turn down the call.
By that time, this country was not a good place to dwell in for a person like Banda, who was used to good life in developed London. But he disregarded this and headed home with an aim to rescue “my people”.
When he arrived in Nyasaland in July 1958, he was later, in August, elected President-General of the Congress. In all the subsequent meetings with the executive members, his speeches were all against the federation and for independence.
Indeed, Malawi should remember Banda today for this move which enabled this country to be independent and be separated from the federation.
Secondly, Malawi remembers Banda for uniting Malawians. Before his arrival, each tribe was minding its own existence. This is proved by the decision of tribes to form their own native associations. For example, between 1912 and 1930, no fewer than nine native associations were formed in Malawi. Sothern Province Native Association was formed in 1922 and, later, out of it, separate associations were formed for Blantyre, Thyolo and Mulanje.
The central Province (Universal) Native Association was formed in 1927. And other native associations were North Nyasa Native Associations, West Nyasa Native Associations and Mombera Native Association.
Having tribal associations in one country just showed that people at that time were not necessarily living as one nation.
Whenever Banda was conducting a rally somewhere within the country, people from all walks of life flocked to that place. People were being ferried from as far as Nkhata Bay or Karonga to Blantyre at Kamuzu Stadium.
People from different districts had an opportunity to meet and share their experiences. Above all, realising that all of them had come to see, dance for or listen to Banda, their leader, they knew that they were really one despite belonging to different ethnic groups.
And the third reason Malawi should commemorate this day is that Banda, again, showed his love for this country in 1993. On July 14 that year, a referendum was held to hear from Malawians whether they wanted to continue with the one-party political system or change to a multiparty system.
It should be noted that, in 1971, Banda was declared life president. This fact makes it very interesting to see that Banda accepted the referendum in 1993 and defeat in the May 1994 General Elections.
He could refuse such an arrangement but, because he always wished this nation well, he let Malawians decide themselves on the political future of their country. People chose multiparty system of politics.
Both the 1993 referendum and the 1994 multiparty elections were free, fair, transparent and credible by all standards because Banda, as a sitting president then, allowed for the creation of a level playing field for all political parties that contested in the elections.
United Democratic Front won the 1994 general elections and Bakili Muluzi took over the reins of power. In fact, Banda conceded defeat even before the electoral commission had announced the results and went on to congratulate Muluzi on his victory. He was a kind of statesman.