Vicious Elements Make a Mockery of Malawi’s Constitution
THE Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, adopted in 1966, contains this provision in its first chapter:
“(iii) The Government and the people of Malawi shall continue to recognize the sanctity of the personal liberties enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and of adherence to the Law of Nations.”
What are some of those personal liberties, the sanctity of which would be recognized? The next articles say:
“(iv) No person should be deprived of his property without payment of fair compensation, and only where the public interest so requires.
“(v) All persons regardless of colour, race or creed should enjoy equal rights and freedoms.”
But almost since the constitution’s adoption, criminal elements in the country have made a mockery of those words.
Even before the writing of this latest constitution, there had been a violent outbreak of attacks on Jehovah’s witnesses in Malawi in the year 1964. A total of 1,081 of their homes and more than one hundred of their meeting places, called Kingdom Halls, were burned or otherwise ruined. Hundreds of their fields of crops were destroyed, to deprive them of needed food. But at least in 1964 there was some recourse to law.
An example showing that justice still functioned then is seen in that eight men who shared in murdering a Malawian Witness named Elton Mwachande were brought to trial and convicted. Refuting the charge that the Witness had ‘provoked’ his assailants, or that Jehovah’s witnesses in Malawi were delinquent in their civic duties, acting judge Mr. L. M. E, Emejulu then said:
“I see no evidence of provocation. It is true that Jehovah’s witnesses determinedly propagated their faith and sought to win converts, but they were alive to their civic duties and they did all they were asked to do, including community development. They only refused to join any political party. . . . There is no evidence that they ever forced or tried to force anyone to accept their religion. The evidence is to the contrary. The Constitution guarantees them the right to belong or not to belong to any political party. I find no evidence of provocation.”
That was in 1964. Since 1967, however, any semblance of justice as regards this defenseless minority has disappeared.
Despite the provisions of equal rights and freedom for all persons guaranteed by the constitution, on October 23, 1967, as announced in The Times of Malawi, the government officially banned Jehovah’s witnesses as an “unlawful society.” This served as a signal for a countrywide attack on Jehovah’s witnesses, who then numbered some 18,000. Again they saw their humble homes ransacked and burned. In the one city of Lilongwe in Central Malawi, 170 homes were burned in just three nights. The total reached 1,095, with 115 Kingdom Halls wrecked. Thousands of Jehovah’s witnesses were beaten and thrown into prison. Other thousands sought temporary refuge by crossing the borders into the neighboring countries of Zambia and Mozambique.
And from the government, the source of ‘law and order,’ the ‘official protector’ of the rights of all the people of Malawi, what? No condemnation whatsoever of all this criminal activity! Nonetheless, seeing the tremendous proportions the violence was taking, the government did call on its political party members to pull back in their vicious persecution. Thereafter, for a time, a measure of peace and calm prevailed and those Witnesses who had sought refuge outside the country returned. Their work of preaching the good news of God’s kingdom to their fellow Malawians went on and, though it could not be done openly due to the ban, their work prospered.
About two years later, on October 6, 1969, the president of Malawi, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, publicly stated that no one in the country should be forced to buy a political card. Would the future show that these words had meaning and strength and would be held in respect? Or would later events also make a mockery of that statement?
Third Wave of Violence Triggered
In 1972 the answer came. At the annual convention of the Malawi Congress Party a resolution was adopted. It made the false claim that Jehovah’s witnesses ‘hindered the political and economic development of Malawi’ and presented these almost unbelievable statements:
“(b) Resolved that all the members of these fanatical religious sects employed in commerce and industry should be dismissed forthwith, and that any commercial or industrial concern that does not comply with this resolution should have its license cancelled.
“(c) Resolved that all the members of these fanatical religious sects employed by the Government should be dismissed forthwith and that any member of these sects who is self-employed, either in business or farming, have his business or farming activities discouraged.
“(d) Resolved that all the members of these sects who live in the villages should be chased away from there, and appealed to the Government to give maximum possible protection to members of the party who deal with the adherents to these sects.”
What was the effect of these cruel and inflammatory resolutions that, in so many words, called for Jehovah’s witnesses to be cast out of human society? Almost immediately a spirit of mob violence was whipped up throughout the entire country. Beginning in July of that year (1972), members of the party’s militant Youth League and its Young Pioneer movement took the lead in a virtual war against Jehovah’s witnesses.
In their savage attacks the party members spared none, not even the aged or the pregnant women. Young girls were raped repeatedly; men were beaten to a state of unconsciousness. Forms of torture that could come only from sick minds, such as driving six-inch nails through men’s feet and forcing them to walk, were used to try to force these people to violate their religious convictions and conscience and buy a party membership card. This time the number of homes destroyed ran into the thousands. In harmony with the Malawi Congress Party’s resolution, the Witnesses were forced from their villages and fields into the forests and bush. Their livestock was stolen or killed.*
In all of this, not one person engaging in these criminal attacks was arrested or brought to justice! How empty all of this made the constitutional provisions appear! The promise of the president that people would not be forced to buy party cards was made worthless, just empty words with no strength requiring respect or obedience. Members of the Youth League often boasted, “We are the police.” By their actions such Youth League members, in effect, spit upon the nation’s constitution and its provisions for freedom for “all persons regardless of colour, race or creed.”
A mass exodus of Jehovah’s witnesses from Malawi resulted. In course of time some thirty-six thousand persons (including children) came to live in ten different refugee camps in the neighboring country of Mozambique. There they were given some land to farm and thus were helped to keep themselves alive. Within these refugee camps they built scores of Kingdom Halls in which to continue their study of God’s Word. They had lost practically all their material possessions but they had not lost their faith.
Forced Back into the Hands of Persecutors
In 1975, however, as a result of a successful revolution against Portugal, the country of Mozambique began undergoing a transition from being a Portuguese colony to becoming an independent nation. Certain radical political elements used the occasion to whip up sentiment against the Malawian Witnesses in the refugee camps and to insist that they join in shouting political slogans, such as “Viva Frelimo [the name of the principal political party in Mozambique].” The Witnesses’ refusal to become politically involved brought their forced evacuation from the Mozambique refugee camps. They were compelled to cross the border back into Malawi.
At the Malawi border, the returning refugees were met by the Minister for the Central Region of Malawi, Mr. Kumbweza Banda. He told them: “You left Malawi of your own accord and now you have returned of your own accord. Go back to your villages and cooperate with the party chairmen and other local party officials.” Referring to the members of the Malawi Youth League, he added: “My boys are here to see that you do cooperate with the Party.”
This gave little hope of improved conditions for the refugees, many of whom were returning without even having funds to travel by bus to their villages. Large numbers walked on foot more than one hundred miles, with their young children. One group walked more than three hundred miles, the women arriving with swollen legs and feet. What awaited them?
On August 27, 1975, shortly after their return began, the District Secretary of the Malawi Congress Party’s headquarters of Nkhotakota sent out a circular making these statements (translated from Cinyanja), the first of which flatly contradicts the claim of Mr. Kumbweza Banda that Jehovah’s witnesses were returning to Malawi of their own accord:
“I am informing you that we have received a message from the party office on this Central Region in Lilongwe. The message says that those people of that banned church of ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ have been chased away from the place to which they fled in Mozambique. These people are now returning to their homes.
“We want to state clearly that if these people arrive at their homes you Area and Branch leaders should make sure, along with your village headmen, that you see to it that each one of them buys a PARTY CARD. As you know, it is a very essential work that every person in your villages should buy a Malawi Congress Party card. This is the one way in which we people of this country can show appreciation to our Life Leader, the Ngwazi [Dr. Banda] for developing this country of Malawi.
“I am yours in the work of the party,
“[Signed] P. Kamsuli Chirwa
Now the violent attacks began again and became so intense that over 4,000 returned refugees crossed Malawi’s border again, this time to Sinda Misale in Zambia, hoping to find refuge there. But by October the Zambian government had forced them to leave, sending them back into Malawi, where the other thousands of Witnesses were undergoing brutal treatment.
Just what are Jehovah’s witnesses actually enduring in Malawi? Is the picture really as tragic as it is presented? Read now the account coming from sources within Malawi itself.
For documented evidence giving names and places of these actions, see Awake! of December 8, 1972, pages 9-28.