Are They Guilty of ‘Hindering Malawi’s Development’?
SUPPOSE that it were true that Jehovah’s witnesses are a “fanatical sect” that has “hindered both the political and economic development” in Malawi, as the M.C.P.’s resolution states. Would beatings, rapings, the destruction of homes and property, ousting from all forms of employment and even murder—would all this now be justified?
Malawi is a duly constituted republic, founded on democratic principles. It has a full body of laws for the maintenance of peace, justice and good order. It has a complete judicial system of law courts with educated, capable judges. It has an extensive police system with trained personnel.
If Jehovah’s witnesses are indeed lawbreakers, why, then, is all this governmental structure not used to handle the problem? Why are the orderly processes of legal charges, arrests, court trials or even imprisonment not used? Why should the authority and duties of mature and trained men be turned over to gangs of immature, untrained and undisciplined youths to exercise? Yes, why should any government allow anarchistic elements to perform its work for it? Does this not constitute a slight upon itself and its ability to handle the problem by constitutional and legal means?
Malawi’s Dignified Goals
The Malawi Congress Party has itself declared its concern for a high standard of conduct in the land. The Malawi Times of September 14 reported that one of the subjects stressed by delegates to the Party’s 1972 annual convention was “the importance of proper and unoffensive conduct.” The newspaper added that convention delegates “emphasized that as Malawians they should learn things in a manner which would not be regarded as ‘shameful and which would not affect the reputation of Malawi.’”
Forceful statements along these same lines are attributed to Life President Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda himself. The Malawi News of September 19 says: “Commenting on the resolution passed by the 1972 annual convention of the Malawi Congress Party His Excellency the Life President has emphasized the importance of good manners and keeping of tradition.” The paper noted that the Life President “called upon his people to revive tradition by teaching their children to respect elders and parents. He also urged teachers to teach the children manners.”
These statements in favor of right conduct are all highly commendable. They fit Life President Banda’s opening convention address in which he stressed “building the nation on moral and spiritual grounds, since this was the cornerstone on which a disciplined nation can be founded.”
The question is: How can the brutal attacks on Jehovah’s witnesses possibly be harmonized with these public statements? How can these do other than affect adversely “the reputation of Malawi”? How can such violence possibly ‘build the nation on moral and spiritual grounds’?
Who Really Hinder the Attaining of These Goals?
Jehovah’s witnesses in Malawi have worked hard to bring moral and spiritual enlightenment to their neighbors, conducting free home studies in God’s Word the Bible. They have taught thousands of Malawians to read and write. They themselves diligently seek to lead exemplary lives, with moral cleanness and with love of God and of neighbor. Surely this is no ‘hindrance’ to the good interests of Malawi, its government or its people.
But to allow youthful elements to engage in a countrywide campaign of violence—to ravage homes, possessions and bodies of men, women and children—how can this possibly aid in attaining those goals or work for the good of the country?
After gangs of youths have had a taste of attacking, destroying, looting and raping, what is there to guarantee that—simply because the original group of victims has ceased to be—these youths will now stop and return to orderly, peaceful conduct? What is there to guarantee that they will not seek new victims, even become a thorny problem for the very government in power? By not taking action to quell such violence, might not the government actually be lifting the lid off a ‘Pandora’s box of evils’?
Frequently members of the Youth League, in their attacks on Jehovah’s witnesses, have boasted, “We are the police.” Instructions from the Police Department for such youths to report to them have been ignored. This shows their disrespect for legally constituted authority.
Not the attackers, but the victims, Jehovah’s witnesses, have been the ones showing respectful recognition of constituted authority. How so? Because, as the Malawi newspapers themselves state, they consistently directed themselves to the police when attacked; they dutifully filled out the required reports and appealed for the protection that Malawian law provides. They did not attempt to take the law into their own hands.
By appealing to law authorities on the basis of legal rights, Jehovah’s witnesses simply followed the example of an earlier Christian. When about to be flogged by the very soldiers who had rescued him from an attacking mob, the apostle Paul called attention to his Roman citizenship, with the result that the flogging was canceled. (Acts 21:30-34; 22:24-29) Later, he again exercised his legal rights in making an appeal to Caesar.—Acts 25:9-12.
Paying Back to Caesar What Is Caesar’s
Christ Jesus instructed his disciples to “pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (Mark 12:17) Those attacking Jehovah’s witnesses sometimes cite these words, claiming that the Witnesses fail to keep them and therefore rightly suffer. The opposite is the truth.
Read the context of these words in the Bible. See for yourself that Jesus was discussing the paying of taxes on that occasion. Jehovah’s witnesses have an international reputation as being among the most conscientious taxpayers in every country.
Columnist Guy Wright, commenting in the San Francisco Examiner about the Malawi events, said of Jehovah’s witnesses: “You might regard them as model citizens. They pay taxes diligently, tend the sick, battle illiteracy.” Similarly, a New York Times editorial on October 22 said that the Witnesses believe that “secular laws must be obeyed, for example in paying taxes.” The tax records of any government, Malawi’s included, show this to be true. In Malawi, during the period from 1953 to 1972, Jehovah’s witnesses have even officially expelled from their congregations eighteen persons who willfully failed to pay their taxes. The Witnesses do not condone such disobedience to secular law.
The crux of the matter is that, while Jehovah’s witnesses “pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar,” they are just as careful to pay back “God’s things to God”—not to Caesar.
A ‘Fanatical Religious Sect’?
But is it not ‘fanaticism’ to refuse to join a political party by the purchase of a membership card? Or, at least, does not one become ‘fanatical’ by holding to such a stand in the face of death?
If this is ‘fanaticism,’ then should we not class Christians of the first century as ‘fanatics’ also? In the ancient Roman Empire, the emperor as head of state required all to render sacrifice to him as a sign of allegiance. A mere pinch of incense placed on the flame of the altar was considered acceptable. What position did the early Christians take? History tells us:
“Christians refused to . . . sacrifice to the emperor’s genius—roughly equivalent today to refusing to salute the flag or repeat the oath of allegiance. . . . Very few of the Christians recanted, although an altar with a fire burning on it was generally kept in the arena for their convenience. All a prisoner had to do was scatter a pinch of incense on the flame and he was given a Certificate of Sacrifice and turned free. It was also carefully explained to him that he was not worshiping the emperor; merely acknowledging the divine character of the emperor as head of the Roman state. Still, almost no Christians availed themselves of the chance to escape.”—“Those About to Die,” Daniel P. Mannix, pp. 135, 137.
In the Book of Culture, by Ethel Rose Peyser, we read (p. 549):
“Rome had become gradually full of people espousing foreign cults, who on demand would swear allegiance to the divine spirit of the emperor. The Christians, however, strong in their faith, would take no such oath of loyalty. And because they did not swear allegiance to what we would to-day consider as analogous to the flag, they were considered politically dangerous.”
In modern times, it may not be a pinch of incense and the obtaining of a Certificate of Sacrifice, but, instead, a salute or the purchase of a card that is involved. Nevertheless, with Jehovah’s witnesses this is a matter of conscience and certainly they do not become ‘politically dangerous’ by such conscientiousness. Their Christian neutrality as to all political affairs is based on God’s Word, the Bible.
Separateness from the World
God’s Son said that his followers would be “no part of the world,” even as he was no part of the world, and that “on this account the world hates you.” (John 15:19) Christ Jesus abstained from mixing in the political affairs of the world. He was neither a supporter of King Herod nor was he his opposer.
Jehovah’s witnesses maintain the same strict neutrality, never meddling in political affairs. They do not share in uprisings riots, revolts or coup d’etats. They pose no threat to any constituted authority. At the same time they fix their personal hopes on God’s righteous Kingdom government by his Son and faithfully give it their full support and allegiance. This they owe to God. This they cannot give to any human ruler or government. If ordered to go contrary to God’s Word, they have no other recourse but to reply as did the apostles: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
No Hindrance to ‘Economic Development’
Do Jehovah’s witnesses hinder Malawi’s economic development? To the contrary, they contribute to it. Those who employed them testify to their good work habits, honesty and industriousness. As the records have shown, employers have even risked the ill will of officials by pleading on behalf of Witness employees whom they had entrusted with key positions of responsibility.
As far back as February 11, 1964, a Watch Tower branch supervisor, Jerker A. Johansson, met with Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda and pointed out to him that village headmen had praised the Witnesses for being among the first to support local “self-help” projects. A fraction of those self-help projects that Jehovah’s witnesses participated in over the years included: making bricks and cutting grass for schools, building schools, houses for teachers, roads and bridges. All this was volunteer labor, without pay. In fact, the Witnesses often contributed their own money and materials.
Purchase of Political Membership Cards
The key issue focuses on one point: the refusal of Jehovah’s witnesses to purchase a membership card of the Malawi Congress Party. This, and not other charges, is the accusation continually leveled against them. This purchase of cards is not the payment of a tax. It is the obtaining of membership in a political party.
Yet the attacks on Jehovah’s witnesses for not purchasing these cards go contrary to past statements made by the Malawi Congress Party’s highest official. Consider:
In 1967, Jehovah’s witnesses in Malawi came under intense attack and were banned. On November 30, 1967, The Times of Blantyre under headlines reading, “VICIOUS SLANDER SAYS PRESIDENT,” quoted President H. Kamuzu Banda as saying: “We did not ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses because they did not belong to the Malawi Congress Party. This is a vicious propaganda against me personally and the Government in particular.”
Two years later, after the President returned from a tour of the Central Region, Jehovah’s witnesses again received wide publicity. In a front-page article, The Times of Blantyre reported: “The President said that for example, it was not the prayers of the banned sect ‘that made me say that I want people to be free to renew cards, from their own hearts, not to be forced.’”—October 6, 1969.
Thus Malawi’s highest official went on public record as opposing the use of force in the matter of purchasing political membership cards.
Again the question is one of matching words with events and actions. If it is indeed the desire of the Life President that no one be forced to buy a political membership card, then does he not have the power and authority to put that desire into force throughout the country? Or is it the case that he has lost control of certain elements of the Malawi Congress Party that he heads? Surely it cannot be that the massive campaign of violence against Jehovah’s witnesses throughout the length and breadth of Malawi has gone unnoticed by the Life President.
He was present at the Party’s annual convention on its last day when the resolutions against Jehovah’s witnesses were adopted, triggering the wave of intense violence against them. Following that convention the Malawian press represents Life President Banda as calling Jehovah’s witnesses the “Devil’s witnesses” and as a “stupid” sect that “does not respect the Government” and “does not want to pay tax.” (The Times, September 18, 1972) Since Jehovah’s witnesses clearly do respect the government and do pay taxes, are the newspapers guilty of engaging in ‘vicious propaganda’ when they publish such inflammatory statements and attribute these to the country’s highest official?
Similarly, are members of the Youth League and Young Pioneers now engaging in ‘vicious propaganda’ when they use the issue of political membership cards as a justification for the recent attacks on the Witnesses? Are they going contrary to the expressed desire of Malawi’s highest official?
More seriously, what of the frequent presence of such Government officials as Gwanda Chakuamba Phiri, M.P., and J. Kumbweza Banda, M.P., at the scene of beatings of the Witnesses and the forcible take-over of their homes and properties? Are such officials acting contrary to the Life President’s desires by thus countenancing these acts?
Consider also the dismissal of M. R. Kalitera from his post-office position after twenty-three years of service. Whose instruction gave rise to this action? He received a letter from A. N. C. Chadzala, Postmaster General, stating:
“Following our discussion this morning in which you certified yourself to have been a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and that you are not prepared to buy or renew the Malawi Congress Party card, I am to interdict you from duty without pay with effect from to-day, 4th October 1972.
“2. This follows His Excellency the Life President’s instruction that any civil servant found and certified to be a member of the ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses should be dismissed if he fails to resign from his post.”
Mr. Kalitera inquired about this interdiction and received a letter from the office of the Chief Personnel Officer. Its second paragraph said:
“2. I wish to confirm what the Postmaster has already said that His Excellency the Life President gave directions that any Government employee who refuses to buy an M.C.P. Card has nothing to do with Government Service and should accordingly resign from his post. In view of your refusal I am now accordingly to accept your resignation from the Public Service with effect from 4th October, 1972.”
All others of Jehovah’s witnesses dismissed from government employ received a similar letter. Are these government officials defying the wishes of the Life President and falsifying his position when they make such statements on government stationery?
Flight from the Country
Jehovah’s witnesses had hoped that the Government of Malawi, and particularly its head of state, Life President Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, would act to grant them legal protection. When this was not forthcoming, they were forced to flee for their lives. In this they were following the counsel of God’s Son, who said: “When they persecute you in one city, flee to another.” (Matt. 10:23) There being no other city or village in all Malawi to flee to, they were forced to flee to other lands.
But why should God allow such intense persecution to come upon any seeking to serve Him? What possible purpose can it serve?
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Malawi’s newspapers attribute to the country’s Life President inflammatory statements about Jehovah’s witnesses
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Witness M. R. Kalitera worked for the Post Office in Malawi from 1949 until dismissed in 1972. As you can see, he was dismissed, not because of not paying taxes, but because he would not buy a political party membership card