By Paliani Chinguwo
On the 18th May 1983, three cabinet ministers and a member of parliament were assassinated by agents of the Malawi Government. These were: Hon. Dick Matenje (MP) the Minister without portfolio and Secretary General of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP); Hon. Aaron Gadama (MP) the Regional Minister for Centre; Hon. Twaibu Sangala (MP) the Minister of Health; and Hon. David Chiwanga (member of parliament for Chikwawa-East).
There are various theories which have over the years emerged to explain why the four would have therefore been eliminated ‘under orders from above’ as it has been alleged.
Others have written that the four were probably killed for internally opposing Dr. Banda’s ‘unpopular’ policies and dictatorship.
It is said that for instance, they had heavily criticized Dr. Banda on the inexorable rising of John Tembo (uncle to Mama Cecilia Kadzamira) in various government positions and the role of Mama Cecilia Kadzamira the State House Official Hostess.
Some sources have also stated that the four had opposed a proposal to amend the constitution to allow a post of a prime minister to be created for John Tembo.
Suffice to say that according to parliamentary records (hansard) of March 1983, Gadama, Matenje, Sangala and Chiwanga as MPs openly made negative remarks of financial mismanagement and corruption in government during the budget session of Parliament in March 1983.
That particular session of Parliament was presented with a highly critical report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which noted massive overspending by some government departments and irresponsible indebtedness on the part of parastatal companies, some of which were by chaired by Hon. John Tembo.
Dr Banda himself also happened to be the minister responsible for the four ministries in question ie Defense, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Justice and External Affairs portfolios.
That budget session was later described by the Supreme Court Judgement on the Mwanza case (delivered on 27th July 1997) as ‘heated, and critical of government.’
Hon. Dick Matenje during a conference abroad
Some writers have argued that this would have probably been viewed as a direct confrontation on Dr Banda the minister responsible for the four ministerial portfolios in question, Hon. John Tembo as the chair of some of the parastatals blacklisted in this regard and above all the then head of the civil service Mr. John Ngwiri.
This particular parliament’s tenure was also coming to an end, and the next one party parliamentary elections were to be held the following month from 29-30 June 1983. On Kamuzu Day (Dr. Banda’s birthday) the 14th May 1983, Dr. Banda stressed that all leaders had to perform and that nobody’s position was secure.
The Parliament was therefore dissolved at the end of a special session held on 17 May 1983, after which there was to be the presentation of certificates to parliamentary candidates at Kwacha Conference Centre in Blantyre the following day. Actually, Matenje himself as Secretary General of MCP, was scheduled to chair this event.
According to the details provided in Dr. John Lwanda’s (1993) book, Kamuzu Banda of Malawi: A study in Promise, Power and Paralysis, the four were arrested on 17 May 1983 along Zomba-Blantyre road, taken to the Eastern Region Police Headquarters in Zomba and spent a night at Mikuyu Prison.
They were transferred to Blantyre the following day where they were brought first to the MCP sub-head office at Chichiri in Blantyre and later to a special branch office in Limbe.
During the night, reports have it that they were hooded, handcuffed and driven to Mwanza- Thambani back-road which leads south from Mwanza district along the Malawi/Mozambican border, where they were hammered and butchered to death and finally dumped in a blue Peugeot saloon, registration number BF 5343 disguised as if they had perished during a car accident while fleeing the country into Mozambique.
Later, Mr. Geofrey Kachale the then Deputy Auditor General who is reported to have co-authored the Audit Report which was discussed during the heated budget session of Parliament in March 1983, was poisoned and rushed to Zomba Hospital where he was successfully resuscitated.
That is according to information given by his Harare-based brother Cuthbert Kachale who further told this writer that his Geofrey Kachale, eventually went to exile where he picked up a job at the Eastern and Southern African Management Institute (ESAMI) in Arusha (Tanzania).
In January 1995 under the Bakili Muluzi’s new government, Dr. Banda and his close associates John Tembo and Mama Cecilia Kadzamira and three former police officers were formally charged in the High Court with murder and conspiracy to murder the four politicians.
On the 23 December 1995, the jury found each of the respondents not guilty. Finally, on 31 July 1997, the Supreme Court dismissed all the four grounds of appeal by the state.