Give to all persons therefore that which is due to them: tribute to whom tribute belongs, custom to whom custom is due, fear to whom fear belongs, honour to whom honour pertains. Romans 13:7 (NMB)
In the 1970’s former Malawi President for Life Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, drew the anger, disrespect, and disgust of Malawi’s African neighbors like Zambia and Tanzania when he established diplomatic relations with Apartheid South Africa under John Voster. The relationship deepened and flourished under the leadership of Pieter Willem Botha (1978-1989).
Although Malawi’s relationship with South Africa, caused vigorous vocal outrage and sneers at the United Nations in New York and the OAU in Ethiopia from countries that worked to free the remaining colonized African states such as Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, Banda’s pragmatism paid off handsomely in terms of fulfilling of Banda’s “three Gwero dreams.”
The former President often talked of his vision, which included moving the capital from Zomba to Lilongwe, building a national road from Nsanje to Chitipa and moving the University of Malawi from Blantyre to Zomba. A very expensive and frivolous pipe dream, which conventional donors would not even look at the costly dreams, the expensive infrastructure-heavy project was bankrolled by Malawi’s new Big Brother to the South of the Limpopo River. So even as the country’s critics screamed, shouted, insulted and made snide remarks about “sell-out Malawi,” Kamuzu steered Malawi into a haven of flourishing as in the Capital Lilongwe, state of the art government office buildings were constructed, the University of Malawi became a reality in Zomba – completed with five schools at the main Chirunga campus – and the M1 Road constructed through the former Matope Road. Then there is the Kamuzu International Airport, which also bears the fruits of Kamuzu’s unpopular decision to befriend the villain south of the Limpopo during Apartheid South Africa; fruits that Malawi enjoys up to today.
There were other perks that at government and individual levels such as the TEBA (an acronym for The Employment Bureau of Africa and previously Wenela – Witwatersrand Native Labour Organisation – for thousands of Malawians, no VISA requirements for Malawians traveling to South Africa, boost to tourism and trade, and no tax for products manufactured in Malawi, among others.
Two weeks ago, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a defense in favour of the erecting a statue of the former Indian leader Mahatma Ghandi, on prime property in Blantyre. The Ministry defended that this project would create jobs for Malawians. As a scholar of history, I have a lot of respect for Mahatma Gandhi; he left us the great legacy of non-violent movement and peaceful resistence. Although he himself never won any Nobel Peace prize, notable heroes in Africa and the US have been recipients of the coveted global prize as a result of following his simple solution to conflict.
The rational for Malawi government to erect a statue to honor Gandhi is weak, flimsy and unacceptable.
There are two reasons for resisting the erection of Gandhi’s statue. The first is that in the country where Gandhi comes from, no statue of a foreigner can ever be erected. If this is the case, why should Malawians pander to a country where no Malawian hero will ever be honored as we honor their hero.
The second reason is if Malawi is to be grateful, it certainly should be grateful to our brothers and sisters south of the Limpopo. One at least for Voster (under his leadership, south Africa released millions of South African Rands, to help Malawi build its Lilongwe capital building offices; it then released more funds to have government move offices and officers to the capital in 1975.
After Voster left office, his successor P.W. Bother, along with his vocal namesake Pik Bother as Foreign Minister, continue the legacy of helping Malawi in development projects. I recall helping a mother draft a letter to raise funds for her daughter to undergo open heart surgery in South Africa. When the letter landed on the South African ambassador’s wife’s desk, she convinced her husband to sponsor the project. The South African High Commission in Lilongwe paid for the entire cost of the open-heart surgery, transport, and accommodation expenses.
This is all due to the good relations Malawi established with South Africa.
After erecting Voster’s and PW Bother’s statues, Malawi government may consider erecting statues for one or two of Republic of Taiwan’s leaders. From there, some statues could also be constructed of our local heroes such as Mai Florence Tsamwa, Kamuzu’s contemporary who convinced him to bring into Malawi the south African Chibukhu Brewery. This was a way to stop women brewing the potent kachasu (local gin). Other heroes are the three cabinet ministers (Aaron Gadama, Dick Matenje and Sangala), Lewis Makata and Dunduzu Chisiza.
In fact, instead of constructing statues, let’s face it, Malawi is really behindsville when it comes to statues; so instead of the lone statue jutted here and there, let’s go wholesale on this project: let the country set up a Madame Tussaud’s type of museum. Let the museum team with Malawi’s heroes that are dying over and over to get the recognition they deserve.
Malawi, this is the time for our country to pay homage to our own heroes. We must stop hero-worshipping other country’s heroes. We have truck-loads of heroes, and we should be educating our children and grandchildren, to worship these heroes, to write stories about, to paint pictures of them, and on Saturday afternoons to go visit at the Malawi Madame Tussaud’s Museum.