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My Take On It: A snapshot of Malawi’s leaders in 57 years of independent rule, Part XIV

Kamuzu Banda: Died in 1997

Kamuzu and Kadzamira

‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold (invigorating, refreshing) nor hot (healing, therapeutic); I wish that you were cold or hot. —Revelation 3:15

As wretched as race relations have been since the trans-Atlantic slave trade, race relations for Africa have not been a pot of roses both locally and internationally. Locally, because the former president placed himself as the expert on the issue, played the harsh card with people of other races that were living in Malawi during the 31 years he was the leader. The one-man leader episode saw Kamuzu deport errant Caucasians, remove from the village all persons of Asian origin. At the dawn of the new democracy in 1994, a constitution clause allowed persons other than indigenous Malawians the right to become Malawian citizens. Despite this provision, while many persons of Asian and Indian descent acquired Malawian citizenship, very few have leaped into activities or conversations of the nation. 

During Malawi’s golden age of development (1964-1994), when Malawi’s increased infrastructure heavily boosted Malawi’s path to the creation of a modern nation, the country had numerous friends across the race lines, inside and outside that ran with Banda’s famous three Gwero dreams (University in Zomba, Capital in Lilongwe, and the Lake Shore Road). These were notoriously Tiny Roland, S.R. Nicholas, Barrow, Savjani, Lambert, Okhai, the Drs. Kidy, Sacrani, Laji Kulji, Blackwood, Tselingas, Trataris, Barriga, Bhana, Wouters, and many others.

Since the narrative on national development was controlled from State House with one voice, with Malawian politicians parroting the lone voice of Dr. Banda (or you perish), race relations were put in check with both whites and Asians playing Banda’s card to avoid being removed from the country. Ironically, although Banda was loud to claim Malawi as a country for his Malawians (meaning the black folk), when he built his state of the art Kamuzu Academy (tailored along the likes of British grammar schools like Eaton, Kamuzu would not employ any Malawians, whom he called “mitu bii” (blackheads) at Kamuzu Academy. There were also no persons of Asian or Indian origin since all the students were picked from government primary schools.

Banda’s sole hold on relation lead to race relations taking a downturn, whereby while other races have the constitutional right to become Malawians, most persons of other races living in Malawi do not participate in Malawi politics and social activities such as football games. Many can still be heard uttering the snide comment “dziko ndi lawo, ndalama ndi zathu” (it’s their country, but the money is ours). The massive disrespect of the indigenous Malawians runs across the color lines (Asian and Caucasians), manipulation of officials in corporate and political circles, and has become an art form, with money changing hands, and somehow leaking to the media.

Two remarkable actions by Kamuzu that tainted the future of race relations in Malawi were the segregation of the education system in government schools and the removal of persons of Asian descent from the rural areas. The removal of Asian students from government schools overnight led to the Asian community scampering about where the Asians and Indians would put their children; for a few, the only other option was the expatriate institutions such as St. Andrews, Bishop McKenzie, or Sir Harry Johnson. But this was not possible for the vast majority of them.

Krishana Savjani OBE told me that hundreds of Asian school children were, by Kamuzu’s statement: “I don’t want my Malawi boys and girls in class with Asians and Indians!” He said their children were bundled into garages and in these makeshift schools. The Asian and Indian communities came together and built the Central Primary and High Schools and South End Primary and High Schools. Twenty years later I found out, as the shoe was on the other foot (Malawian children were now trying to get into the Asian/Indian schools), as Mr. Savjani was approached on why my son could not be given a seat in the school (he was chairman of the South End Board of Directors).

The picture of Asian and Indian school children crowded in makeshift schools in garages tugged my heart-stings; my eyes were red for two reasons: children in garages and my son’s chances of not getting entry into South End. I had brought my son, complete in the South End School, failure was not an option. And I was ready to break out into a howl, if necessary. Chairman Savjani granted my son’s entry and for some years there were 31 students in the class.

In the mid-1970s former President Kamuzu Banda ordered the removal of all Asian businessmen out from Malawi’s rural areas. This move was to give Malawian business persons, the chance to compete with their fellow Malawians, as opposed to competing with the Asian or Indian, whom Banda said had an unfair advantage over the Malawians. He issued stern warnings against the few that moved to the cities but remained operational in the rural areas through Malawian operatives: their city shops would be forfeited through the Forfeiture Act.

Thus, foreigners living in Malawi were just that, foreigners. However, the 1995 Constitution paved the way for persons from other countries, other races to become Malawians. Sadly, while there has been a move to gain citizenship, it appears, such acquisition is purely for the opportunity of operating business in the country, without the stings of engaging in the local 360-degree activities of the country. The other races are merely in the country to make money. There is no engaging in local politics, there was no rush to get back to the rural areas, and there is no push to work with or assist the government in the creation of jobs, by among others, setting up labor-intense factories as did Barrow, Roland, SR Nicholas. Wouters, Savjani, Okhai, and others.

There are groups of business operatives who, on a chosen day of the week, have a bag of money. Throughout this day, the owner, or a designated employee hands out money to poor indigenous Malawians. This is repeated weekly. My advice to these shop owners is for them to establish labor-intensive factories, employ people so that they do not have to get these weekly handouts. These handouts are entrenching. Their weekly monetary handouts are massaging poverty. 

All people living in Malawi should participate in the activities of the nation; they must be part of the national narrative, especially on issues of race relations. Let us all fix the errors of the past. Standing idle is no longer an option. 

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