Kamuzu Banda
Late Kamuzu Banda Engineered the 1964 Cabinet Crisis in Malawi

The Cabinet Crisis of 1964 in Malawi occurred in August and September 1964 shortly after independence when, after an unresolved confrontation between the Prime Minister, Hastings Banda (later Malawi’s first President) and the cabinet ministers present on 26 August 1964, three ministers and a parliamentary secretary were dismissed on 7 September.

These dismissals were followed by the resignations of three more cabinet ministers and another parliamentary secretary, in sympathy with those dismissed. Initially, this only left the President and one other minister in post, although one of those who had resigned rescinded his resignation within a few hours. The reasons that the ex-ministers put forward for the confrontation and subsequent resignations were the autocratic attitude of Banda, who failed to consult other ministers and kept power in his own hands, his insistence on maintaining diplomatic relations with South Africa and Portugal and a number of domestic austerity measures.

It is unclear whether the former ministers intended to remove Banda entirely, to reduce his role to that of a non-executive figurehead or simply to force him to recognise collective cabinet responsibility. Banda seized the initiative, firstly, by dismissing some of the dissidents rather than negotiating, and secondly, (after the resignations) by holding a debate on a motion of confidence on 8 and 9 September 1964. As the result of the debate was an overwhelming vote of confidence, Banda declined to reinstate any of the ministers or offer them any other posts, despite the urging of the Governor-General to compromise.

After some unrest, and clashes between supporters of the ex-ministers and of Banda, most of the former left Malawi in October with their families and leading supporters, for Zambia or Tanzania. One ex-minister, Henry Chipembere went into hiding inside Malawi and, in February 1965 led a small, unsuccessful armed uprising. After its failure, he was able to arrange for his transfer to the USA. Another ex-minister, Yatuta Chisiza, organised an even smaller incursion from Mozambique in 1967, in which he was killed. Several of the former ministers died in exile or, in the case of Orton Chirwa in a Malawian jail, but some survived to return to Malawi after Banda was deposed and to return to public life.

The Cabinet Crisis, sometimes referred to as the Revolt of the Ministers is one of the most important but also most controversial episodes in the history of independent Malawi. Many of the contemporary documentary sources were written by expatriate diplomats and officials who were not close to the ex-ministers, and in some cases antipathetic to them. These accounts have been contradicted by the autobiographies, often written long after the event, of the ex-ministers themselves, although these are also inconsistent with one another. The principal published works quoted rely on a mixture of documentary sources and interviews with participants, both African and expatriate, and suggest that the crisis arose in a political culture that permitted no dissent, and treated attempts to debate issues as plotting.

So here we are another Autocratic leader Lazarus Chakwera, following the example set for him in 1964 by Hasting Kamuzu Banda.

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