The Reign of Terror Made Known World Wide
WHAT is happening to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi is not being reported in Malawi’s newspapers. An effort is made to keep these atrocities from coming to light. The reason why is clearly expressed in these words of Christ Jesus:
“He that practices vile things hates the light and does not come to the light, in order that his works may not be reproved. But he that does what is true comes to the light, in order that his works may be made manifest as having been worked in harmony with God.”—John 3:19-21.
Though the attempt is made to draw a curtain of silence around the country, the facts have become known. On January 6, 1976, The Japan Times stated: “Western newsmen are barred from both Malawi and Mozambique and so cannot confirm independently the sect’s reports of persecution there. But the reports reaching South Africa of maltreatment of Witnesses are numerous enough to give them credence.”
Earlier, on December 7, 1975, Colin Legum, writing in the Observer of London, said: “Reports of atrocities against Jehovah’s Witnesses, including savage beatings, rape, sexual abuse and torture, are beginning to filter out of dozens of villages in Malawi. . . . Detailed evidence of this new reign of terror rests on statements collected by the Witnesses’ Watchtower Society, but is also independently corroborated by reports coming out of the villages.”
Outside Malawi, voices have been raised in expressions of shocked disapproval. In the United States, for instance, the Public Employee Press of January 16, 1976, said this about the sufferings of Jehovah’s Witnesses under the headline “Nazi-Like Tactics in Central Africa”:
“‘Ufulu, ufulu! This shout rang out on July 6, 1964, in the Republic of Malawi, a land previously called Nyasaland, in Central Africa. This was its birth shout. It was now free of European domination. Translated, that shouted word means ‘freedom.’ The new name it took [Malawi] means ‘flaming waters.’ In 1975 there is, indeed, a flame in the land; yes, a fire that once again has taken ufulu away from a minority of Malawians. In its wake one sees rape, torture, unspeakable indignities, and destruction of property—all against law-abiding citizens.”
A Decade of Terror
The history of these atrocities against peace-loving Christians is a long and sordid one. It was back in 1964 that the first wave of persecution came upon Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi. The reason then was the same as now. Jehovah’s Witnesses know Christ Jesus’ statement that ‘his kingdom was not of this world’ and that his followers would not be of this world. (John 18:36; 15:19) So, because of conscience and Bible-based principles Jehovah’s Witnesses—not only in Malawi but world wide—do not engage in politics or join political parties. For that reason and that reason alone, in 1964 some 1,081 of their homes and over a hundred of their Kingdom Halls, or meeting places, in Malawi were burned or otherwise ruined.
In 1967, The Times of Malawi announced that the government had banned Jehovah’s Witnesses. This triggered a new countrywide assault. Burnings of Witness homes and Kingdom Halls were accompanied by beatings and jailings. Thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses fled to neighboring Zambia and Mozambique to find refuge until the violence subsided.
Five years later, the Malawi Congress Party went to the extreme of formally adopting a resolution calling for the dismissal of all Witnesses from their places of employment, the discouraging of their farming and business activities and their violent ouster from the very villages in which they had their homes. The savagery of the assaults this resolution provoked took on new proportions. Young girls were repeatedly raped, men were beaten to the point of unconsciousness and forms of torture were employed—all in an effort to make Jehovah’s Witnesses abandon their religious convictions, violate their conscience and buy membership cards for the dominant political party. Their homes burned, their crops destroyed, their livestock stolen or killed, the Witnesses made a mass exodus from the country. In time, some 36,000, including children, had settled in ten different refugee camps set up in neighboring Mozambique.
Came 1975 and the majority of these camps were shut down by the new Mozambique government, forcing thousands of Witnesses back across the border into Malawi. The horrifying account of the depraved attacks they experienced following this forced repatriation has been made known in the December 8, 1975, issue of Awake! magazine, as well as in newspapers, magazines and radio and television reports around the world. A new element was added to the list of cruelties. Along with the usual beatings, rapings and torture, now detention camps were formed into which to herd the Witnesses.
Memories of Nazi Concentration Camps Evoked
By the third week of December 1975, over 3,000 male Witnesses had been confined in the Dzaleka detention camp near Dowa, north of Lilongwe. All had been charged, convicted and imprisoned for two years. Women members of the Witnesses were also put into such camps. Information received in January 1976 indicated that more than 5,000 Christian men and women were then imprisoned in Malawi, and arrests were continuing. In some of these places women had their small children with them. Perhaps the most pathetic part of the reports coming out of these camps is the number of small children who have died due to the lack of proper food and other hardships.
One of the imprisoned Witnesses wrote: “Prisoners being so many, there are only 400 plates. So, some have hot nshima [a customary Malawian food] put on one hand and relish on the other. Brothers often must put the hot nshima on the ground and eat it from there.”
Like the Nazis, the heads of these detention camps have employed the Witnesses as slave laborers. Officers are quoted as telling them: “As the government has arranged, we shall make you our tractors.” At the Dzaleka camp the Witnesses were shown a hill and told they would be made to dig it twelve inches deep by hand. The women Witnesses were first ordered to do this with the thought in the mind of those so ordering that they would soon give up and agree to violate their consciences. Instead they performed the laborious work and remained firm in their convictions. Witness men were made to cut and carry heavy logs. They also were compelled to carry large stones for distances up to two and a half miles. Those sick were still forced to work, while supervisors tauntingly told them, “Your God will help you.”
Political Figures Still Lead in Persecution
Not only have federal officials in Malawi refused to bring relief to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some of them have continued to act as provokers of continued assaults.
In one area of Malawi, Mr. Katora Phiri, a member of parliament, went around addressing public gatherings and inciting local people to harass Jehovah’s Witnesses. He encouraged the people to eradicate the Witnesses from the area. As a result, four congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the area came under assault, with the Witness men being beaten.
On November 11, 1975, at Chiendausiku Village, another member of parliament, Mr. Muluzu, set fire to three houses belonging to Witnesses. On November 13, Mr. Muluzu, accompanied by the village headman, was responsible for the burning of four more of the humble homes of the Witnesses. And on November 15, 1975, two more Witness homes were burned at Mdala Village and Mgochi Village.
Malawian police have also not been free from guilt. In the Ncheu area, Christian men and women in several places were beaten badly by youths of the Malawi Congress Party. One of these women was so severely beaten that she had to be hospitalized. The hospital reported the case to the police. When the Witness was released the police came—not to seek her cooperation in apprehending the attackers—but to arrest her! At the Snape Valley police station, Christian women were raped throughout an entire night before being taken to prison.
Yes, unbelievable as it may seem, the Malawian government has not seen fit to put an end to the dismal repetition of brutal assaults on this religious minority. True, there has been some calmness in certain areas of the country. Some local officials have had the decency and compassion to allow Malawian Witnesses to live in their native villages unmolested and to cultivate their garden plots. These officials are a credit to the country. Unfortunately, they, too, are in the minority.
Attention was drawn to this problem of official inaction in The Nigerian Chronicle of December 26, 1975. It quoted the Kenya Daily Nation as saying that the African continent was “becoming increasingly notorious for double standards.” It explained this by adding: “When people are persecuted in America, Russia or South Africa, India and China, people rise in unison to condemn those responsible. When things like this happen to people in African states, not even official[s] of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) bother to comment.”
Yes, once more, official inaction or even complicity in persecution has caused Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi to seek refuge outside their country’s borders. Some who could do so entered the Milange refugee camp in Mozambique. According to one report received in January 1976, there were then some 12,000 Malawian Christians in the camp, along with about 10,000 of their fellow believers of Mozambique who are undergoing somewhat similar trials.
If this cruel reign of terror continues, will the resistance of Jehovah’s Witnesses finally collapse so that they will break integrity to Jehovah God? Or will Malawi officials finally call off their persecution of these Christian men and women? These are questions discussed in the next article.