What Is Happening to Christians in Malawi?
IN RECENT months the world press has repeatedly called attention to the persecution of Christians in Malawi. These Christians, Jehovah’s witnesses, have been the victims of what London’s Sunday Telegram of January 14, 1973, called “one of the most vicious religious persecutions in Africa’s turbulent history.”
Regular readers of Awake! magazine are familiar with many of the details of this persecution, which broke out most recently in the latter half of 1972. The December 8 issue of Awake! carried a full report on this, entitled “Christians Flee Cruel Persecution in Malawi.”
That report covered the events that had taken place up to a few months ago. But what has happened since then? Where does the situation now stand for these Malawian Christians?
Before we bring events up-to-date, a brief summary of what has taken place in Malawi may help readers who are not familiar with the situation.
Waves of Intense Persecution
Intense persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses on a national scale began in Malawi in 1967. Then many Witnesses were savagely beaten and some were murdered. Hundreds of their women were raped, some repeatedly. Thousands of their homes, stores and places of worship were looted and destroyed. Their Christian activity, including their peaceful meeting to study the Bible, was banned, as was all their literature.
Last year, 1972, another wave of persecution broke out. This time it was even more severe than the one in 1967. The beatings, burnings, lootings, rapings and murders were on a much larger scale. The Witnesses were deprived of their livelihood and fired from their jobs. Indeed, a countrywide effort was made to destroy the some 23,000 of Jehovah’s witnesses in Malawi. So they were forced to flee for their lives.
All of this came about as the direct result of official actions taken by Malawi’s one-party government. Matthew White, a correspondent for the London Financial Times, was in Malawi at the time. Writing from Blantyre, he said the following, which was published in the Financial Times on October 31:
“The purge of Jehovah’s witnesses . . . has unsettled the country more than any other post-independence event. Action against the Christian sectarians . . . followed a resolution passed at the annual convention of the Malawi Congress Party to deprive Witnesses of their livelihood and have them ‘chased away’ from their villages unless they joined the party.”
Those resolutions were endorsed by the president of Malawi, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, in a rally at the city of Zomba on September 17. With what result? Correspondent White reports:
“Seeing this speech as the green light, squads from the party’s League of Malawi Youth and the Young Pioneers started house-to-house searches, evicting and sometimes assaulting Africans who could not produce or refused to buy party membership cards. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to gauge the full extent of this violence . . .
“What astonishes many people here—including some members of the M[alawi] C[ongress] P[arty]—is that President Banda should allow the hostility to get so completely out of hand.”
The savagery of the attacks caused a wave of revulsion on the part of many people throughout the world. The press of many nations reacted similarly. Typical of many press reports was this comment by the London Times of December 15, 1972:
“Hitler put them in concentration camps, they have been persecuted behind the iron curtain, and they have been persecuted in African one-party states. Dr. Banda of Malawi banned the sect in 1967, and this year the savage attacks of his Young Pioneers—the Kamusu’s party watchdogs—have driven thousands of them into neighbouring countries.”
Appeals were made to stop the persecution. But these did not prevail. So, as the Times noted, Jehovah’s witnesses were forced to flee Malawi for their lives.
In an editorial on October 17, the San Francisco Examiner said of Jehovah’s witnesses: “You might regard them as model citizens. They pay taxes diligently, tend the sick, battle illiteracy. But they refuse, on religious principle, to buy membership cards in Malawi’s single political party.”
Thus, the immediate cause of this persecution is the refusal of these Christians to join the political party that controls Malawi, the Malawi Congress Party. They will not purchase the party cards, as is demanded of them. This is because of their Bible-based neutral stand on politics.
In this regard, they do just as Jesus Christ and the first-century Christians did. Ask yourself: What political faction, whether Roman or Jewish, did Jesus join? What political faction did the apostles join? The Bible is clear on this point. They did not join any of them. They remained neutral, peacefully carrying on their Christian activity as decent, law-abiding citizens.
To try to explain such matters to the authorities, every effort was made by Jehovah’s witnesses. Cables, letters, phone calls and interviews were used. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s witnesses in Brooklyn, New York, cabled a request to Dr. Banda asking him to have a meeting with representatives of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s witnesses. But the Malawi government simply answered that any information should be sent through the Malawi delegate to the United Nations.
This was done. A thirteen-page memorandum was sent to this U.N. representative. It explained the position of Jehovah’s witnesses, and why no government should fear them. In a section of this letter under the subheading “Why Jehovah’s Witnesses Refuse to Buy Party Cards,” the following was stated:
“The position of Jehovah’s witnesses in this matter is based on Biblical teaching and their conscience. Jehovah’s witnesses take a neutral position in all countries of the world, not taking sides or participating in any political activities, thus better to serve impartially as ministers of good news representing the heavenly kingdom of Jehovah God.”
Commenting on the matter of political involvement that would result from buying party cards, this section also noted:
“Jehovah’s witnesses respect and observe the laws of each country in which they reside as long as these laws are not contrary to the divine law. However, in the matter of political involvement, which includes the purchase of political party membership cards, they conscientiously feel that this would be contrary to the words of our Lord Jesus concerning his true followers: ‘They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.’ (John 17:16) Also, Christ said, as recorded at John 18:36: ‘My kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought.’”
In addition, the Governing Body’s letter to the representative of Malawi in the United Nations said this:
“Jehovah’s witnesses take the same position as early Christians. The book ‘Christianity and the Roman Government’ states: ‘The Christians were strangers and pilgrims in the world around them; their citizenship was in heaven; the kingdom to which they looked was not of this world. The consequent want of interest in public affairs came thus from the outset to be a noticeable feature in Christianity.’
“Permit it to be said, however, that Jehovah’s witnesses have no intention or desire to interfere with what others do about participation in politics. They are not working against the Government of Malawi or against the political party. They themselves decline to participate in political matters or to purchase political party cards, even though it has brought great suffering upon them, because to Jehovah’s witnesses it is a matter of Bible-based belief and conscience.”
However, to this time, no reply has been forthcoming from the government of Malawi. No delegation has been allowed to represent Jehovah’s witnesses to the president or to other officials of that land.
Well over 20,000 of Jehovah’s witnesses were forced to flee Malawi. Most of them fled to neighboring Zambia. Several thousand fled to Mozambique.