Brutal Persecution Breaks Out Again
THE reluctance of Jehovah’s witnesses to return to Malawi was well founded. This became evident when we learn what happened to those who were taken back.
What awaited them was another reign of terror. Nothing had changed. The vicious attitude against them still prevailed. Malawi’s government had taken no steps to alleviate the situation.
Return to Malawi
When the Witnesses arrived at Lilongwe Airport in Malawi, those who were known to be leading overseers were arrested and put in jail. Among these were John Chiwele, who had been supervisor of the camp at Sinda Misale, and Lazarus Chirwa, who was his assistant.
At the airport, the Witnesses were addressed by Malawi government officials. One of these was Mr. Kumbweza Banda, minister for the Central region. Another was Mr. Qaniso Chibambo, minister for the Northern region. The Witnesses were told that they had left Malawi of their own will, which was untrue; and that they had returned to Malawi of their own will, which was equally untrue.
The officials next said that the Witnesses would have to go back to their respective villages and buy party cards. When one of the Witnesses tried to say a word to the officials, he was told to shut up. Policemen and Young Pioneers, the militant youth group of the Malawi Congress Party, were then instructed to search all the Witnesses. They confiscated Bibles, Bible literature, passports and all other documents. The Witnesses were then told to walk to their villages. Those who lived very far away were taken in lorries to a place near their area and then told to walk the rest of the way.
When the Witnesses reached their villages, a few who had relatives were provided with sleeping accommodations. But the majority stayed out in the open and slept there, some under trees, along with their children. But a worse fate awaited them, and it became evident very quickly. An example is noted in the London Sunday Telegraph of January 14, which reported on a speech that President Banda made over the radio at the beginning of the new year. The report states:
“Banda said the Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . had been deceived by their own kind, he said, into believing that ‘someone called Armageddon would destroy Malawi on November 15 and would build them a new city at Lilongwe.’
“Even as he was speaking, Mr. and Mrs. Gorson Kamanga, middle-aged members of the sect who had been repatriated to their home at Nkhata Bay on the Lake, were being stripped naked and paraded through the streets as, once again, they had refused to buy party cards.
“And, at a village near Lilongwe, another five ‘repatriated’ Witnesses had their arms and legs broken in a vicious beating at the hands of Young Pioneers. One man had nails driven through his hands. At Lilongwe Hospital they were refused treatment because they had no party cards.”
Anyone familiar with the teachings of Jehovah’s witnesses will, of course, know that never have they believed or taught that Armageddon is a person. Nor have they ever taught that Malawi would be destroyed on November 15, or that a new city would be built for them there.
But such hostility against them fanned the flames of persecution. And the issue of party cards was once again thrust at the Witnesses. When they refused to buy them because of their neutrality in political affairs, vicious attacks began on these Witnesses who had been ‘repatriated.’
The evidence of this comes not just from foreign newspapers. It comes from Jehovah’s witnesses themselves who were the victims. Many interviews were held with those ‘repatriates’ who had been again engulfed in a wave of terror.
These eyewitness reports show that when the refugees went back to their respective villages, the chiefs, village headmen, party officials, as well as government officials, demanded that they buy the party cards. Typical are the following examples:
One of Jehovah’s witnesses, Gilbert July of Chimongo village, reported: “On January 3, 1973, a meeting was convened for all village headmen in Mchinji district, presided over by Mr. Cheuche, M.P. for Mchinji region. At this meeting it was resolved that if the Witnesses from Sinda Misale would still refuse to buy party cards, then they should be dealt with ruthlessly. After this meeting the Witness brothers and sisters of Kandama congregation situated at Chimongo village (whose chief is Duwa) were all chased away from their village because they refused to buy the party cards. The brothers and sisters left for the bush.”
Witness Rightwell Moses is from Kachijere village, the chief of which is Mbelwa. Moses reported that as soon as the Witnesses had returned to the village they were savagely beaten by the youths because they refused to buy party cards. Hastings Mzamo, the presiding overseer of the local congregation there, was so badly beaten he can no longer hear well.
Rightwell adds these details to his report: “Two days after we arrived home, Mr. Mahara Banda, M.P., came to the village and warned the people at a meeting that nobody without a party card should be allowed to stay in the village. Then on January 1, 1973, Mr. Mahara Banda brought two youths with him in his car. Their last names are Jere and Tembo. He parked his car outside the village and waited there while the youths entered the village. When the youths entered the village they approached my daughter Joicy and also Sister Oliva and demanded party cards from them. The sisters, of course, could not produce any, and so the youths began hitting them with fists. The young sisters were forcibly stripped of their clothes and then the youths began beating them with sticks in their naked state. They got hold of the brothers and began beating them up also. When they got tired they left for their car, shouting as they were going away that they would return to beat up the brothers and sisters again. As soon as they left, the brothers and sisters fled from the village into the bush and then left Malawi.”
Another Witness woman, Likeness Kamanga, was sent back to her village of Vithando, whose chief is Chindi. She reports the following: “Upon arrival at our village we were invited to a meeting at Bulale. The meeting was addressed by Adamson Dindi, district chairman of the Malawi Congress Party. This was on January 4, 1973. Twelve Witnesses, including myself, were at this meeting. We were all ordered to buy party cards. But we explained that we would not buy any. Mr. Dindi and the others became so enraged that they ordered us to leave Malawi immediately, right then and there. We were not allowed to take anything with us. We all left for the bush in small groups. The next day, as I was in flight, I was told by my relatives that one of the Witnesses who was at the meeting with us the previous day had been killed.”
Geleson Esaya, a Witness from Mwelekela village, relates: “On January 2, 1973, we were invited to a meeting to be held in Mwelekela village. Village headman Lombwa was to preside. We were twenty Witnesses all together. While at the meeting we were ordered to buy Malawi Congress Party cards or else face death. We explained that we would not buy a card. Then he ordered us to leave the village immediately. We kindly but firmly explained that we wanted a letter from him explaining the reasons for expelling us from the village. He refused. We then decided to go to the Mchinji police station. But instead of listening to us, the officer in charge there ordered us to return to the village. We therefore had no alternative but to leave Malawi.”
Scores of other eyewitness accounts testify to the same brutal treatment. Every one of the more than one hundred Witnesses interviewed confirmed that absolutely nothing had been done by the government to stop the persecution. They all expressed fears that the situation would get worse. As a result, many of them have fled into the bush and out of Malawi once more.
The Refugees in Mozambique
Thousands of Jehovah’s witnesses had already fled to neighboring Mozambique when persecution flared up during 1972. Now, some of those who had been ‘repatriated’ recently and then forced to flee Malawi again have gone in that direction.
What is the present situation with the refugee Witnesses in Mozambique? It is also difficult, but it appears that there is no outright persecution. While the life is hard and the workday very long and strenuous, the government of that land has not mistreated the Witnesses.
The Witnesses are confined to certain areas near the border where they have been given some land. They have been told to clear the land and plant crops. In this way they will be able to provide food for themselves. Efforts have been made by Jehovah’s witnesses elsewhere to get supplies to these areas, but the authorities have declined the offer, stating that they will handle the situation themselves.
The Portuguese authorities also kindly gave the refugees 250 acres of additional land to build a camp near Fort Mlangeni. The authorities were impressed by the fact that the Witnesses went right to work and organized the camp efficiently. They laid out lavatories for men, for women and for children. They built their own hospital where midwives cared for the birth of new babies—and 78 of these new babies had arrived by December 15! At that time, there were a reported 7,670 of Jehovah’s witnesses situated there.
During the latter half of December, a district overseer of Jehovah’s witnesses had the opportunity to visit some of these areas. He reported on the very hard work they were doing, but also that they were not being persecuted. He noted that the Witnesses were permitted to hold Christian meetings and study the Bible.
In fact, during December 217 persons were baptized by Jehovah’s witnesses in the refugee camps in Mozambique. This indicated that some who fled had been unbaptized interested persons.
Decent People Horrified
The persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses by Malawi has dismayed and horrified decent persons throughout the world. And in the process the reputation of Malawi has suffered staggering blows.
Many individuals who are not Jehovah’s witnesses have expressed their sympathy. They say that they know Jehovah’s witnesses as decent, law-abiding persons who truly love God. One such comment from a person in the Bahamas was published in The Guardian, a leading British journal. This letter to the editor was in response to a previous Guardian article, which described the brutal persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses. It stated:
“After reading the article ‘Witnesses Slain’ it brought many tears to my eyes. I know these people, and anyone else who knows them knows that no Witness in any part of the world deserves that kind of treatment. . . .
“Wouldn’t you say that they love God more than anything else on earth? For a man to be brutally beaten to death because he refuses to join a band to kill other humans, which is strongly against the word of God, shouldn’t we notice something about him right away?
“This man believes, loves, and trusts in his God. Sure it would have been easier to join and keep on living, but this would have made a mockery of what he teaches, and therefore go against the beliefs of a true Christian. . . .
“In other words, it was an honour for them to die for the God whom they so willingly loved. . . .
“They are very careful not to break the laws of the country they live in, but remember they will never break the laws of their God either.
“I am not a Jehovah’s witness, but I have observed them very closely, and I find them to be among the nicest people I’ve ever met. One can look in their eyes and tell that they love and believe in the God they so patiently and vigorously try to teach others about.”
Also, the American publication The Christian Century had this to say:
“While to many Christians the Witnesses appear meddlesome, their stubborn refusal to compromise their beliefs in the face of persecution and violence should elicit from all of us at least some degree of admiration. In these days of rampant nationalism, the Witnesses are one of the few groups still witnessing to the Christian view that one must obey God before man. And in the United States, where there is a confused image of a quasi-religious state, it is refreshing to have the Jehovah’s Witnesses remind us of our prior allegiance.”